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Rockets star James Harden: 'I'm focused on being here'

Harden explains his late arrival to training camp and where he stands with the team.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Rockets guard James Harden played in Wednesday’s preseason victory over the Spurs.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden finally addressed the media Wednesday, a day after his preseason debut in the team’s 112-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs, but he provided no clarity regarding a reported desire for a trade.

Asked specifically whether he still wanted to be traded, Harden concentrated energy on the present.

“Right now, I’m just focused on being here,” Harden said. “Today was good. Yesterday felt really good being out there for the first time since the bubble. I haven’t really had an opportunity to do a lot of five-on-five work. But for my first time being out there, I felt pretty good.”

Harden scored 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting in 21 minutes Tuesday with four assists, three rebounds and two steals, generating excitement within the locker room about the potential this season for a Houston Rockets squad featuring the former Kia MVP along with new additions John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood.

New Rockets coach Stephen Silas said Harden’s debut “meant a lot,” and added Wednesday that their “relationship continues to build.”

Closer look at Rockets’ 2020-21 depth chart.

Harden reported to Rockets training camp on Dec. 8, but he wasn’t cleared to work out with the rest of the team until Monday, after testing negative for COVID-19 on six consecutive days. Harden missed Houston’s first two exhibition contests against the Chicago Bulls, while he advanced through the league’s coronavirus protocols. Last season’s leading scorer took the floor Tuesday at the Toyota Center with the Rockets starting group.

Under contract for the next two seasons at least with a player option in 2022, Harden addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since September, when the Los Angeles Lakers bounced Houston from the playoffs in five games. Harden was asked whether he was trying to send the franchise a message with a trip to Las Vegas, and pictures posted on Instagram of him attending a birthday party in Atlanta for rapper Lil Baby while the rest of his Rockets teammates had already reported to training camp.

“I was just training,” he said.

Harden also sidestepped the question of whether the rumors of a trade request and uncertainty concerning his future with the organization had created a distraction.

“Since I’ve been here, there’s nothing that’s been said about it,” said Harden, who mentioned that he hasn’t yet spoken with new general manager Rafael Stone. “Everybody in the locker room and the coaching staff has been focused on ramping up and preparing for the season. So, that’s all that matters.”

Game Recap: Rockets 112, Spurs 98 

Wall said after the game Tuesday night that he hasn’t spoken with Harden specifically about his situation. Cousins echoed that sentiment.

“At the end of the day, this is a business,” Cousins said. “You can only respect a guy for doing whatever he feels is best for him, his personal life and his career. Honestly, I haven’t [spoken with Harden]. I don’t really feel like that’s my place. That’s a decision he has to make for himself.”

When rumors first circulated regarding Harden’s reported desire for a trade, Silas said he wanted to give the star guard “some space,” but expressed confidence he would be “all-in” after joining the team for training camp.

But it’s clear that Silas continues to tread lightly when discussing Harden’s situation.

“I’m just really concentrating on what’s best on the floor,” he said. “As far as his buy in with me, it seems pretty good. We’ve talked hoop and talked about different situations.  I understand where all these questions are coming from. But I’m gonna keep answering it the same way: I can’t speak for James. I can’t really say what he’s thinking or what he’s not thinking. That was what his media availability was for.”

But Harden’s time in front of the microphones Wednesday yielded very little transparency about his intentions.

Still, Silas liked what he saw of Harden during his preseason debut, while sounding as if he’d also appreciate more clarity regarding the eight-time All-Star’s commitment to the Houston Rockets as the regular season quickly approaches.

“I get the question, but the best thing for me is to really concentrate on how can I maximize his talents on the floor?” Silas said. “How can I put him in a place where he can be great and help everybody else be great? That kind of simplifies it for me. If I delve into other types of things, it’ll draw away from what’s important, which is how this team is playing. If we exactly knew kind of where his head was at, I think it would be good for everybody. But we’re dealing with reality, which is things change on a day-to-day basis. Things change on a game-to-game basis. As I said before: my job is to coach this basketball team, and make sure the guys are put in the right position. Part of that, as your question is kind of leading to, is the spirit of the group. I think the spirit of the group, especially based on the game last night, is pretty good.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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