Is All-NBA team a foreshadowing?
Harden being only unanimous pick is proof he’s MVP, Alexander says
Rockets guard James Harden was the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA first team announced Thursday.
But to Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, the distinction should foreshadow a greater individual honor to be announced next month.
“It’s an historic event,” Alexander said, “and it proves he should be the MVP this year.”
Finalists for individual awards will be announced Friday with the winners named June 26 in New York.
Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and Cleveland forward LeBron James were one vote shy of joining Harden as unanimous selections. San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans center Anthony Davis rounded out the first team.
To Alexander, Thursday’s announcement was evidence his star should go from first in All-NBA points to first in the MVP balloting.
“He led the league in assists with a high scoring average, second in the league, and many times he had to play defense against a big guy because we didn’t have enough big people,” Alexander said. “He was the best point guard in the league. He was by far the Most Valuable Player.”
Joining elite Rockets
Harden was an All-NBA first-team selection for the third time in four seasons after not landing a spot on any All-NBA teams in 2016. Harden has made an All-NBA team in four of five seasons with the Rockets, joining Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Yao Ming as the only Rockets to have been an All-NBA selection four times.
With his return to an All-NBA team, Harden, 27, is eligible to sign a contract extension in a second consecutive summer. That potentially would be worth as much as $168 million over four years, in addition to the $58.7 million he is due to make in the next two seasons.
The Rockets signed Harden to an extension last summer, keeping him under contract at least through the 2018-19 season (he has a player option for the next season).
Though players were not eligible for extensions in consecutive seasons, the new collective bargaining agreement included a provision to grandfather in Harden and Westbrook to make them eligible for the new designated veteran player extension so they would not be penalized for agreeing to an extension the summer before the new CBA.
Harden this season led the NBA in assists (averaging 11.2 per game) and was second in scoring (29.1), establishing career bests in points, assists and rebounds (8.1) for a third consecutive season. The 56.2 points the Rockets averaged per game off Harden’s scoring and assists were the second most in NBA history.
He became the only player in NBA history to get at least 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in the same season. He joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
He already was in select company on the All-NBA first team, with Westbrook becoming the first player since Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double and James averaging career highs in assists and rebounds to earn his 11th All-NBA first-team selection, tying the record held by Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone. Leonard and Davis were first-team picks for the second time.
Costly for George
Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo were AllNBA second-team picks.
Golden State’s Draymond Green, Washington’s John Wall, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan were thirdteam picks.
The voting could have a greater impact on two players — Indiana’s Paul George and Utah’s Gordon Hayward — who did not earn All-NBA spots.
The rules of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement would have made George eligible for the designated player exception and a five-year “supermax” contract worth $210 million, roughly $70 million more than any team can offer when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2018.
The Pacers could offer George the “supermax” contract if he makes an All-NBA team next season, but failing to secure that advantage this season could influence the Pacers’ decision to keep George and risk losing him as a free agent.
Off target in playoffs
Hayward can opt out of his contract this season. Had he been named to an All-NBA team, the Jazz could have offered $180 million over five years, with other teams able to offer only $132 million over four years. The Jazz might offer a fifth season.
The announcement of Harden’s selection came one week after the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs.
He averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the postseason, but his shooting slumped to 41.3 percent and 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.
He joined Michael Jordan as the only players to average at least 28 points, eight assists, five rebounds and 1.9 steals in a postseason of at least six games, but Harden ended the playoffs with a season-low 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting in the Game 6 elimination game loss to San Antonio.
The Rockets are committed to the plan to build their team around Harden, from general manager Daryl Morey calling criticism of Harden’s play “a joke” to Alexander’s reaction.
“By saying he is the only one to make first-team (All-NBA) unanimously, it proves he is one of the top two or three players in the league,” Alexander said. “You always want to build around great players.”
Guard James Harden has made an All-NBA team in four of the first five seasons he has spent with the Rockets, missing out in 2016.
The 56.2 points the Rockets averaged per game off guard James Harden’s scoring and assists were the second most in NBA history.