HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden isn’t listening to anyone who is worried about how things will work in Houston with the addition of Russell Westbrook.
The Beard is convinced things will be great and believes the move is not only good for the Rockets as they chase their first title since 1995, but that it also is a positive change for Westbrook after being the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder for more than a decade.
“He just comes to entirely different chapter in his life to go out there and just play and doesn’t have to go out there and worry about the pressure of carrying an entire organization,” Harden said. “I’m excited for him.”
Questions about how these two ball-dominate guards will coexist in Houston have swirled since the Rockets shipped Chris Paul to Oklahoma City this summer in exchange for Westbrook. Only time will tell if the pairing of these two MVPs will be the push this team needs to finally win another championship.
Until then everyone in the organization insists that it will work because Harden and Westbrook want it to.
“If Russ got it going and Russ is on one of those games we’ve all seen before, guess what I’m going to do? Sit back and watch the show,” Harden said leaning back and crossing his arms.
Westbrook also insisted that he isn’t the least bit worried about how they’ll mesh playing together for the first time since Harden was traded from the Thunder after the 2012 season. Westbrook, an eight-time All-Star, listed all the ways he can impact the game aside from scoring, reeling off all his skills from rebounding to being a leader.
“When it comes to me and James playing together, who’s going to have the ball, who’s not going to have the ball, it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “My goal is to win a championship so whatever it takes to do that that’s what I’m going to do.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni was quick to point out that not too long ago there were similar concerns about how Harden would adjust to playing with Paul. Those worries soon dissipated when Houston won a franchise-record 65 regular-season games and reached the Western Conference finals in Paul’s first season with the team in 2017-18.
“It works itself out,” D’Antoni said. “You try not to over-coach it. We need Russell to be Russell. We don’t want to change him. He’s an MVP.”
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire restaurant and casino owner, recalled seeing Westbrook play against the Rockets last season.
“I watched Oklahoma kick our butts twice last year and there was this guy that would get a rebound and have it dunked on the other side when our guys started to run down the court,” Fertitta said. “And I thought what would it be like to have this guy on our team?”
Now that he is, Fertitta has high expectations for what he and Harden can do this season.
“I know I’m really excited, so I hope they don’t let me down,” he said.
Some things to know about the Rockets as they start camp.
The Rockets signed veteran center Tyson Chandler this summer in hopes of improving their rebounding and to take some of the load off starter Clint Capela. Chandler, who’ll turn 37 next week, was the second overall pick in the 2001 draft.
When Chandler started his career his goal was to play for 10 years and he never dreamed he’d play nearly twice that long.
“That’s why I’m wearing 19 this year. I came in at 19. This is my 19th season,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being here. I wear it on my chest because I feel blessed and fortunate to be here.”
MOST FASHIONABLE TEAM EVER?
Now that Westbrook has joined a team that already had style stars Harden and P.J. Tucker, the Rockets could be the most fashionable NBA team ever.
Westbrook laughed when asked if he thought that was the case before he got serious.
“Probably so,” he said. “If I think about it probably so.”
Tucker, who is often referred to as the league’s Sneaker King, also has impeccable style and was seen on the front row at many of the shows during fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan this offseason. So when a reporter asked if he’d need to step his fashion game up now that Westbrook was on the team he was taken a bit off guard.
“Step it up? Nah, I’m good,” he said smiling.
Players have been photographed for several years entering the arena in their designer outfits. But with the style star power on this team, Harden joked that they might have to take that ritual up a notch this year.
“It’s going to be a runway,” he said. “We’ll have a red carpet. We’ll have music. We’ll have the whole nine yards. So be ready for it.”
The Rockets weren’t able to work out a contract extension with D’Antoni this offseason, leaving him with just one year left on the deal he signed when he joined the team in 2016. Despite the inability to come to terms on a new deal, Fertitta isn’t concerned about D’Antoni’s future with the team.
“He’s a great coach,” Fertitta said. “He’s one of the great offensive minds out there. I truly do not see Mike going anywhere.”
The 68-year-old D’Antoni is 173-73 in three seasons in Houston.
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