James Harden

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Paul, Harden

Speaking to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta discussed his fondness for incentive-based contracts (“I believe that when you perform well you should make more money”), the possibility of an extension for P.J. Tucker (“It hasn’t come to my desk”), and a handful of other topics.

One of Fertitta’s most interesting comments was about replacing Chris Paul with Russell Westbrook. While he didn’t come right out and say it, the Rockets’ owner suggested that Westbrook will help increase Houston’s pace and perhaps complement Harden better both on and off the court.

“We used to be one of the top transition teams (in the league), and we’ve slowed down the last few years,” Fertitta said, alluding to the fact that the Rockets ranked 27th in pace last season after placing in the top five as recently as 2016/17. “And James and Russ go back a long ways in California, so they can talk to each other like brothers, you know, instead of one (player) thinking that he’s the mentor.”

Fertitta went on to clarify that he thinks Paul still has plenty left in the tank and will have a great season in Oklahoma City, but that Westbrook is “just a little bit better fit” for the way the Rockets want to play.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • In a separate recent interview, Fertitta spoke about the Rockets’ championship window essentially being open for the next four years or so. Kelly Iko of The Athletic looks back at the club’s offseason and examines whether Houston can reasonably expect to contend for a title during the next four seasons.
  • The Rockets may shun the “load management” label, but team officials have a plan to take some of the scoring and play-making burden off of James Harden this season, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. As Beck notes, Houston’s goal is to keep Harden as fresh as possible for the postseason to ensure he’s still performing at an elite level in the spring.
  • Within his feature on Harden, Beck spoke to the former MVP about the goals he still has for the rest of his NBA careers as he enters his 30s. “I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” Harden said. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the NBA is still reviewing Nene‘s contract with the Rockets. The league is said to be discussing internally whether it should disapprove of the incentives in the agreement.

Western Notes: Harden, Westbrook, Jenkins, Clippers, Dozier

Rockets star James Harden expressed confidence that he and Russell Westbrook will get adjusted to playing with each other quickly this season, sharing his thoughts in a recent interview with Alex Shultz of GQ.com.

“I don’t really do a lot of interviews, so I actually don’t answer it that much,” Harden said when asked if the questioned about him and Westbrook irritate him. “The questions are usually the same, though: How are you and Russ going to fit in? It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.”

Harden and Westbrook, known as two talented, ball-dominate players, will play in the same backcourt for the first time since the 2011/12 season with Oklahoma City. The duo is eager to prove they can co-exist, with both players still seeking their first NBA championships.

“We’ve formed into the players that we want to be, in terms of superstar status,” Harden said. “We had opportunities to be at the top, at the peak; he won an MVP and I won an MVP. And there were conversations before, when me and Chris [Paul] joined the same team about whether it was going to work. We ended up with the best record in the NBA and were a game away from the Finals.

“It’s not like me and Russ were just teammates in Oklahoma City for three years. We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other. We don’t really care or pay attention to what other people say or think.”

There’s more out of the Western Conference today:

  • New Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins is eager to lead his young team into a promising future, Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com writes. “So, for me, it’s that mentality of defining each day who we are,” Jenkins said as part of a larger quote. “We’re naturally and organically going to grow and not just have this set plan for how we’re going to be from Game 1 to 82. That excites me, because organically, we’re going to get to a really good spot with everything we’ve laid down already. We’ve hit the ground running, and Oct. 1 (first training camp practice) is rapidly approaching.”
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic examines what the other newcomers (not named Kawhi Leonard or Paul George) could bring to the Clippers this season. Buha discusses the talents of players such as Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGruder, Mfiondu Kabengele and more in his piece.
  • PJ Dozier hopes to make a strong impression with the Nuggets in training camp this fall, Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com writes. “I love the city [of Denver], it’s a beautiful city,” Dozier said. “[I want to] continue to show that I belong and that I belong for a reason. I feel like I have a lot to show for — a lot to bring to the table. It’s just all about getting the opportunity and being prepared for it.”

Rockets Notes: Nene, Westbrook, Harden, Clemons

The Rockets got creative with Nene‘s new contract, according to Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, who reports (via Twitter) that the deal spans two years, with a non-guaranteed second season. Although Nene is only owed a minimum base salary in each of those two seasons, likely incentives increase the annual value of the contract to $10MM per year, per Siegel.

The criteria for Nene’s incentives will be fascinating, since it’s hard to imagine he’ll actually earn all $7MM+ in bonus money. The Rockets may be artificially inflating his cap hit using incentives that will be tricky to earn (even though they’re technically considered “likely”). A $10MM cap hit – made possible because Houston held Nene’s Bird rights – will make the veteran center one of Houston’s most valuable salary-matching pieces leading up to the February trade deadline.

According to Siegel, the trigger date for Nene’s 2020/21 salary is February 15, 2020 rather than next summer, which suggests there’s a real chance the big man could be released during the season, perhaps being traded and then bought out in early February.

As we wait for more specifics on Nene’s contract, let’s round up a few more items out of Houston…

Western Notes: Harden, Kings, Rockets

Rockets star James Harden has been testing a new one-legged, step-back three-pointer during several open runs this summer, seeking new ways to innovate his game for the upcoming season, Tim MacMahon of ESPN writes.

“I’m always trying to be creative,” Harden said. “I’m always trying to get better — at basketball, life, businesswise. I’m always trying to find ways to be impactful. With basketball, you have to be creative. This is my 11th year, and every single year I want to get better. I don’t want to stay the same. You’ve got to find ways to keep growing.”

The Rockets struck a major trade to acquire star guard Russell Westbrook from Oklahoma City this summer, sending away multiple first-round picks and pick swaps to sacrifice their future for a championship. Harden appears to be locked into having the best season of his career, hoping to capitalize on the team’s massive potential.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this upcoming season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

There’s more out of the Western Conference tonight:

  • In addition to testing a new lethal move, Harden recently made the decision to donate in excess of $240K to renovate basketball courts in Houston, as relayed by Ben DuBose of The Rockets Wire (Twitter link). This isn’t the first time he’s given back to the city of Houston, with the 29-year-old donating $1MM in 2017 to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
  • Jack Winter of Basketball Insiders ponders whether the Kings are finally bound to make the playoffs after 14 years of missing the tournament. Sacramento sports a young nucleus of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III, combined with the veteran help of Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and others. The team finished with a 39-43 record last season, nine games behind the eighth seed Clippers.
  • While the 2018/19 Most Valuable Player race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Harden was close, Harden believes the media created a narrative that cost him his second MVP award, he told 97.9 The Box. “I had a [season] for the books, but it’s out of my control,” he said. “Once the media creates that narrative about one person for the beginning of the year, I think they just run with that narrative until the end of the year. I don’t want to get into details but all I can do is control what I can do and I did what I was supposed to do at a high level. Only a few seasons anybody ever did that. I can’t control that, all I can control is coming back next year and winning a chip.”

Inside The Rockets’ Trade For Russell Westbrook

Two days before the agreement that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston was completed, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was pessimistic that it would get done, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes in a retrospective of the deal. Feigen traces the steps that led to the Rockets’ latest high-stakes gamble and the Thunder’s decision to part with their franchise player.

Everything began late on July 5 when Kawhi Leonard announced he was joining the Clippers, followed by the news that Oklahoma City was trading Paul George there as well. Morey sent text messages to owner Tilman Fertitta and his son Patrick suggesting that a huge shakeup could be in the works in OKC. Other team officials were included in the discussion the next morning, then Morey talked to James Harden, who had already spoken to Westbrook.

“The discussion at that point among the basketball staff was, ‘Hey, we need to check in and see if this changes the direction.’ I guess there was a thought they might trade other guys like Russell,” Morey said. “You never know. At this point, it was pretty unknown.”

Morey placed a call to Thunder GM Sam Presti, but their early discussions remained general. They spoke frequently over the next few days as international prospects and other players were considered in a deal that eventually became Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft picks. Morey alerted Paul and his representatives that a potential trade was brewing. He also tried unsuccessfully to get a third team involved, although he wouldn’t reveal who he talked to.

“It didn’t seem that there would be a fit for both parties,” Morey said. “I told them (Tilman and Patrick Fertitta) quite a bit that it wasn’t going to happen because that’s what I believed. I didn’t think the pieces lined up. That’s why a three-team deal made sense. And I thought other teams would be more involved than we were; teams that had more fits.”

A day before the deal was completed, Presti expressed a preference for a two-team trade that was heavy on draft picks. The Thunder wound up with Houston’s top-four-protected selections in 2024 and 2026, along with two pick swaps that include top-four protection in 2021 and and top-10 protection in 2025. Once an agreement was reached, Morey tried to expand the deal by involving other teams, but he found interest was low. He said the hardest part was having to tell Paul that their partnership was over after two seasons.

“I hated that call,” Morey said. “I’m sure he hated it more. He’s been such a great player for us. We were moments away from winning a title with him.”

Russell Westbrook Talks Rockets, Harden, OKC

After an eventful 11-year run in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was officially introduced as the newest member of the Rockets on Friday. For some, it was likely odd to see Westbrook don the Rocket red after it seemed he was destined to conclude his career in a Thunder uniform. For Westbrook, it’s the latest chapter in his pursuit for a championship.

In addition to his new team, Westbrook addressed James Harden, a former teammate in OKC and now his co-star in a chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy. ‘Brodie’ also addressed his departure from the Thunder and how he thinks he will adjust to Houston’s style of play, per ESPN’s Royce Young.

Check out Westbrook’s comments down below:

On leaving Oklahoma City:

“It’s tough. It’s something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Because I basically grew up there, in Oklahoma City. Eighteen years old in Oklahoma City and the people, the organization, never done me wrong. They always stood up for me and my family — always had my back — and I’m very, very grateful and I don’t take that for granted. Like I said, Sam [Presti] and Mr. [Clay] Bennett [OKC’s owner], Coach [Scott] Brooks, Coach [Billy] Donovan, the whole staff, everybody over there always had my best interests, and I can’t do nothing but be thankful and grateful for what they did for me and my family.”

On being teammates with former MVP James Harden:

“We both understand that we have one common goal and that’s to win a championship. We understand what we have to do. I’m not worried about it, and I know James isn’t worried about it. I can play off the ball; I don’t have to touch the ball to impact the game. That’s the best way for me to come in and impact this team. I can do other things on the floor to make sure we have a better chance to win.”

On joining a new system in Houston:

“I’ll fit right in, personally. Floor spread, it gives me the opportunity to attack, penetrate, kick. Defensively, it’ll give me an opportunity to switch and guard and rebound at a high level. Push the break, get us out on the break. A lot of different things. I think the style of play is great, something I’m looking forward to, just getting out in space in the open floor, shooters all around and playing that way.”

Inside Kawhi Leonard’s Path To The Clippers

The Clippers were portrayed as a distant third in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes before the opportunity developed to trade for Paul George, but their work behind the scenes paved the way for success, according to Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a detailed look at one of the offseason’s most important stories.

Everything came together late on the night of July 5 when a tentative deal was reached with the Thunder that would deliver George for a generous return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two pick swaps. The Clippers’ front office then held its collective breath during a phone call to Leonard and his representatives to make sure he was on board.

When the answer came, L.A. vaulted into a short list of the league’s elite teams. Pairing Leonard and George gives them a pair of two-way stars in their prime who are capable of delivering the first championship in franchise history. It also brings a pair of Southern California natives back home, but the authors suggest that storyline was overblown in Leonard’s case.

From the start of free agency, Leonard was focused on finding a team that could contend for a title every year. He spoke to the Clippers several times each day once free agency began, continuing the conversation past his official meeting on July 1. The team’s selling points included owner Steve Ballmer’s commitment to winning and to spending whatever it takes to get there, a player-friendly environment and a planned new arena in Inglewood.

It turns out that discretion also worked in the Clippers’ favor. They have a history of making major deals without leaking to the press, as evidenced by recent trades involving Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris. It’s an approach that Leonard’s camp insisted upon, and it helped them as Leonard sorted through his options.

The payoff came late that Friday night as George and Leonard committed to joining forces. As Buha and Amick note, the moves validated everything the Clippers have set up since Ballmer bought the team and allowed them to cash in the assets they collected in the Griffin and Harris deals. All the small moves they had made in recent years suddenly turned into a very big deal.

There are a few more significant details from the Athletic story:

  • In contrast to the Clippers‘ reputation to operating in the shadows, the Lakers tend to be very public about their business. Some observers believe their chances at Leonard were severely damaged when details of his meeting with former team president Magic Johnson became public. “I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and (his uncle and confidant, Dennis Robertson) that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” a person involved in the process told the authors. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can’t trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them.”
  • Before learning of the opportunity with George, the Clippers ran through exhaustive scenarios about NBA stars who might be available. They contacted the Wizards about Bradley Beal and the Rockets about James Harden, but were turned down in both cases. Leonard, meanwhile, reached out to Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant about coming to Los Angeles.
  • George and Russell Westbrook both talked to the Thunder in June about shaking up the franchise, frustrated by a second straight early playoff exit. However, Oklahoma City management believed everything had been smoothed over by the time free agency began.
  • Leonard, who has built a reputation of knocking off “super teams,” wasn’t especially interested in forming another one by joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers. “Elite players like Kawhi earn their stripes, and he was not going to be a guy who joins a so-called ‘super team,’” a source told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “Now, if a super team forms around him, there is nothing he can control. The Clippers were the best long-term fit.”

Southwest Notes: Harden, Westbrook, K. Williams, Barea

Rockets star James Harden made his first public comments on a reported rift with former teammate Chris Paul, relays Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. After Houston was knocked out of the playoffs, stories emerged that Harden and Paul had a toxic relationship and could no longer exist in the same environment. Harden admits on-court arguments with Paul, who was traded to Oklahoma City last week, but insists the reports were exaggerated.

“It was just pretty funny how guys can speculate or make up false stories on the TV and then you’ve got people believing it,” he said. “That’s where guys have to make sure their facts are true before they put stuff in the media or on national television. But for me personally, and I’m sure for Chris as well, we never paid any attention to it. And Chris has been unbelievable these last two years. He’s helped me as a leader, as a mentor, just all that good stuff. I guess it’s life. It’s the business, how things don’t work out. But he’s a great dude. I have nothing negative to say about him.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Harden told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that he has no concerns about meshing his talents with Russell Westbrook‘s, citing their previous experience playing together in Oklahoma City and with the 2012 Olympic team. “When you have talent like that, it works itself out,” Harden said. “You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”
  • Pelicans small forward Kenrich Williams received a $200K guarantee on his contract for 2019/20 by remaining on the roster yesterday, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. Williams’ $1,416,852 salary will become fully guaranteed on opening night.
  • Mavericks guard J.J. Barea has decided not to play for Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup tournament, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It has been less than eight months since Barea had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles, and although he is encouraged by his progress, he believes it’s too soon to risk playing competitively.

James Harden Won’t Play In 2019 World Cup

Another star player has pulled out of the 2019 World Cup, with James Harden confirming today that he’ll skip this year’s event to focus on adjusting to the new-look Rockets backcourt (Twitter link via Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle).

[RELATED: Rockets acquire Russell Westbrook]

A report earlier this week indicated that new Lakers big man Anthony Davis was also withdrawing his name from consideration for Team USA’s 12-man World Cup roster.

While the removal of Harden and Davis from USA Basketball’s 20-man training camp roster reduces the group’s star power to some extent, there’s still a ton of talent among the 18-player group, which will eventually be pared down to 12 players for China.

Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, and Kyle Lowry are among the 2019 All-Stars who are a part of Team USA’s preliminary roster.

They’ll be joined by younger prospects like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Kyle Kuzma, as well as reliable veteran role players like P.J. Tucker, Brook Lopez, Eric Gordon, and Paul Millsap.

Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Kevin Love, CJ McCollum, and Myles Turner round out the 18-man group.

It remains to be seen if Team USA will add replacements for Harden and Davis.

Texas Notes: Westbrook, Hartenstein, Curry, Carroll

The Rockets believe Russell Westbrook‘s talents will overcome what could be an awkward fit alongside James Harden in their backcourt, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Houston and Oklahoma City agreed to terms on this offseason’s latest blockbuster Thursday night, swapping the spectacular but inefficient Westbrook for steady veteran Chris Paul.

Westbrook is only two years removed from an MVP season, but his explosiveness doesn’t always make up for poor perimeter shooting and questionable decisions in the open court. He has shot below 30% from 3-point range in four of the past five seasons and is joining a team that relies on the long ball more than anyone in league history. However, Rockets officials are confident that he can reach the 33% to 35% range because he’ll be surrounded by shooters who’ll spread the floor and will be playing with an elite passer in Harden.

Feigen adds that Harden has reportedly agreed to play off the ball more often to help Westbrook succeed. Harden will continue to operate as the point guard in many possessions, but Westbrook will also be allowed to run the offense, similar to their relationship in Oklahoma City.

There’s more tonight out of Texas:

  • Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein has agreed to extend his guarantee date beyond Monday, tweets Kelly Iko of The Athletic. July 15 was the original deadline for his $1,416,852 deal for next season to become fully guaranteed.
  • Seth Curry said in a radio interview this week (transcribed by The Dallas Morning News) that familiarity and his respect for coach Rick Carlisle were factors in his decision to return to the Mavericks. Curry signed a four-year deal this week that brings him back to Dallas after two years away. “I played some of my best basketball when I was there a couple of years ago, so I’m excited to rejoin the team and help get them back to the playoffs,” Curry said. “… I wanted to get back to playing with guys like Luka (Doncic) and (Kristaps Porzingis). Unselfish guys. Luka’s one of the best passers in the league right now. … I’m excited about the opportunity.”
  • DeMarre Carroll talked with the Bucks before joining the Spurs, but Milwaukee’s cap situation limited what the team could offer, relays Jabari Young of The Athletic. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, a former assistant in San Antonio, highly recommended the organization to Carroll, as did Nets GM Sean Marks, a former Spurs executive.