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Harden relishes fresh start, getting stability with Rockets

POSTED: Jul 22, 2016 5:34 PM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker


James Harden Season Top 10

Check out the top 10 plays from Rockets All-Star James Harden.

One year ago at this time, the Houston Rockets were preparing to enter the 2015-16 season as presumptive contenders. Following a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets were hoping to ride their dynamic duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard a bit further this season.

But it couldn't hold, and after a sluggish start to the 2015-16 regular season, the Rockets fired head coach Kevin McHale. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff got the Rockets to the playoffs, where they made a first round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

Plays and coaches have come and gone in Houston, but the one constant has been James Harden, the All-Star guard who gets buckets come rain, sleet, snow or sun. In his seventh pro season, Harden led the NBA in minutes played for a second consecutive season, and averaged a career-best 29 points per game.

This season the Rockets have a new coaching staff and added quality veterans such as Ryan Anderson, Nene and Eric Gordon. Still, Houston's fate will largely rest on Harden's shoulders.

Harden met with a group of reporters this week in Las Vegas at the introduction of his latest shoe from adidas, the Crazylight 2016, which is available now.

Q: How many pairs of shoes do you go through in a season?

HARDEN: Normally? I'm not sure. I like to have a fresh pair every game.

Q: You seem like you'd be hard on them, the way you play.

HARDEN: I mean, I do a lot of cutting, a lot of moving, a lot of running. But for the most part my shoes hold up. Sometimes if I get into a rhythm, and I have a really good week of scoring or playing well, I'll ride the shoe until it falls off.

Q: So you're superstitious?

HARDEN: (laughs) Sometimes. Not always.

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D'Antoni's system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We've communicated several times a week. You know, it's going to work. I'm really excited about it because he's prepared. He's prepared, he's given me knowledge, he's given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he's trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team -- I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it's exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, 'The Rockets aren't a good defensive team.' Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it's all about preparation. In this league it's all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they're successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don't really worry, I don't focus on it. And now with the more talent that's going to release some offensive pressure off me, I'm going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It's really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn't really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.

Q: Next year the salary cap is projected to go up again, but you chose to sign a long-term extension now. What was the thought process behind that?

HARDEN: For me it's not about money at all. Financially, I'm pretty well. It's about winning. It's about building something. When I first got to Houston I got an opportunity to have my own organization, to be a leader and do it the right way, how I wanted it to be done. So me locking myself in, having an opportunity to get guys around me who want to do the same thing...the mindset is great character guys who want to win. And I'm here for it.

Q: Have you spoken to Kevin Durant at all since he made his decision?

HARDEN: Not really, not really.

Q: Last season kind of overshadows what happened two seasons ago when you guys made it to the Western Conference Finals. What do the Rockets have to do to get back to that level?

HARDEN: Well, basically, half our players are new, and an entirely new coaching staff. So, it's about the culture, it's about doing things the right way and holding each other accountable. That's something we kind of lacked last year, and it showed. I'm just excited to have some stability, have some guys who are going to work and focus on winning. This year's going to be a lot better.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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