Is All-NBA team a fore­shad­ow­ing?

Harden be­ing only unan­i­mous pick is proof he’s MVP, Alexan­der says

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - By Jonathan Feigen

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.”

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

Jon Shap­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

The 56.2 points the Rock­ets av­er­aged per game off guard James Harden’s scor­ing and as­sists were the sec­ond most in NBA his­tory.

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