Morning Shootaround -- Oct. 4

NBA.com Staff

Harden embraces bigger role | Wade solid in preseason debut | Cousins excited about Kings’ offense

No. 1: Harden: ‘I want to do whatever it takes to win’ — Houston Rockets superstar guard James Harden had a banner season in 2014-15, posting career highs in scoring (27.4 points per game), rebounds (5.7 per game), assists (7.0 per game) and steals (1.9 per game) as the Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals and he finished second to Stephen Curry in Kia MVP voting. Harden improved even moreso on those stats last season (29.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.5 apg) but Houston struggled and was a first-round out in the playoffs. In a telling interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Harden says he’s going to give it his all in 2016-17:

James Harden has grown to understand how the duties of a franchise player expand beyond the court, how a year-round organizational partnership comes with a superstar’s responsibility. From managing the locker room to leadership to free-agent recruiting, Harden has slowly, surely begun to wrap his arms around it all.

“I have made the sacrifice that I want to do whatever it takes to win, so it’s one of the reasons why I didn’t go to the Olympics this summer,” Harden told The Vertical. “It was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve ever made in my life. For my legacy here in Houston and in the NBA, I thought it was important.”

Harden’s sitting inside the Rockets players’ lounge in the Toyota Center – awaiting the start of a training-camp practice – and the conversation is turning to that nebulous place between perception and reality. If some still want to judge Harden on those five-minute YouTube compilations of his worst moments – those defensive laugh tracks – he understands that he’s delivered them the content to judge him harshly. He won’t tell you that it isn’t embarrassing, only that he’s determined to make those moments become rarer and rarer. He knows this, though: Every night, no one has to go searching for the franchise star of the Houston Rockets. He’s on the floor, ball in his hands.

As franchise players go, he fits the most important criteria: He’s always available, always balling. Across the past two seasons, Harden has played 185 out of 186 regular-season and playoff games, including 38.1 minutes per game in 2015-16.

“You can say [the perception] is frustrating, or you can look at it and say, ‘OK, what if I play 65 games and miss 17 games. Play 32 minutes a game. And look like the best player ever.’ I wish I could, but in this instance, I’m here to play and do what I do.

“We don’t have … listen, I can’t sit out games. My teammates, my coaches, this organization needs me on that floor.”

To Harden, hanging 82 games a season on the board matters to him. It matters a lot.

“It means everything,” Harden told The Vertical. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was a little kid. Just for me to be on the court every day … it’s important to me.

“You’ve got a lot of guys taking nights off. My body is stable, so I play a lot of minutes. I’m always on the court. I’ve got to do so much. I’m not complaining about it. I’m not crying about it. It is what it is. I’m taking full responsibility of it. But I’ve got to figure out how to be most effective in those minutes.”

Looking back in Los Angeles and New York, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has told The Vertical that he could’ve been more proactive in building stronger bonds with star players Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. He promised himself – and Rockets management – that wouldn’t happen with Harden.

And Harden knows this too: As much as D’Antoni needs him, he needs D’Antoni. Together, they have to get this right. Together, they have to elevate a franchise.

“Our communication has been strong,” Harden told The Vertical. “I want to learn. I want to figure it out. Me calling him, texting him, going into his office, that’s happened already several times. My pride is definitely to the side. If I’ve got a problem – if I’ve got a question – I’m going to talk to him about it.”


No. 2: Wade makes his Chicago preseason debut — Chicago native and former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade stunned the NBA world this summer when he left Miami to suit up with his hometown Bulls. After talking about that move and everyone around him getting used to it, Wade played in his first preseason game with Chicago last night and more or less looked comfortable doing so, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

But when public address announcer Tommy Edwards called the Robbins, Ill., native out first in lineup introductions with “From Chicago…” the Bulls’ flirtations from the 2003 draft and 2010 free agency faded to reality.

Wade, who sent shock waves throughout the NBA by leaving the Heat after 13 seasons and three championships, finished with six points on 2-for-3 shooting in the Bulls’ 93-91 loss to the Bucks in Monday’s exhibition opener.

Like most everything else with these new-look Bulls, Wade without “Heat” on his jersey will take some getting used to.

“I put that book away. Next time I open that book will be Nov. 10,” Wade said, alluding to the Bulls’ first trip to Miami. “Right now, my job is to focus on being my best Dwyane Wade here in Chicago at the tender age of 34, bringing something to this team, organization and city. And it’s no pressure on me because my expectation of myself will always be higher than outside expectations.”

Wade, who said coach Fred Hoiberg has been encouraging him to shoot more 3-pointers, looked fine in his 11 minutes, 41 seconds. He sank his only two 3-point attempts after making just seven all last regular season and shooting just 15.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Wade, a 28.4 percent career 3-point shooter, did connect at 52.2 percent on 3-pointers last postseason.

Jimmy Butler did his usual two-way work, finishing with 13 points and getting to the line nine times in 15 minutes. And Rajon Rondo, also in his Bulls debut, posted seven assists with six rebounds and five turnovers in 24 minutes.

“I’ve been in the league 14 years,” Wade said. “This is a straight marathon for me. I’ve talked to Coach about playing a few minutes and kind of revving up as we go on. … Everything for me is different surroundings. But it’s still basketball. Nothing has changed from that standpoint.”

Jimmy Butler said chemistry between him, Wade and Rondo is forming quickly and naturally.

“We’re buying in, studying each other’s games and talking about everything,” Butler said. “Even when practice is over we’re watching film and talking about how we can make each other better.”


No. 3: Cousins excited about Joerger’s offense — As an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies — and later as the team’s coach from 2013-16 — Dave Joerger played a role in developing Memphis’ low post-powered attack anchored by All-Star big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. As he begins his first season in Sacramento as coach of the Kings, his offensive gameplan has got resident All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins juiced about how he will be used in 2016-17. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more:

DeMarcus Cousins can sum up his feelings about the Kings’ offense in nine words: “I love it. I love it. I love it.”

New coach Dave Joerger plans to use Cousins in the high post more, allowing the two-time All-Star center to be more of a facilitator while continuing to be a scoring threat.

Joerger wants the Kings to avoid bad habits, such as players staring at Cousins and not moving when he has the ball. So expect a lot of movement around Cousins when he is in the high post.

The Kings will unveil their offense in Tuesday night’s preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim.

Though Cousins said he isn’t too concerned with result because the Kings still are figuring out how to play together, he likes the possibilities in Joerger’s attack.

“A lot of learning,” Cousins said after Monday’s practice. “It’s a new system, of course, a lot of options, man. The offense is different. I think it’s a good look for our team. I think this will help this team get to the next level. So it’s about us getting the system down pat and getting these options, a lot of options.”

Last season, Cousins averaged 3.3 assists, just below his career-high 3.6 in 2014-15. He also averaged a career-high 20.5 field-goal attempts per game, including 3.2 three-pointers.

“It’s been tough, honestly,” Cousins said. “To shake off the way we used to play, to a … more traditional way, it’s been tough, but I think guys have been great about it. We’re working hard. We’re taking in as much information as we can in a short period of time. I think we’re growing at a fast pace – still got a lot of growing to do.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers are trying to remain positive in the wake of Ben Simmons’ injury news … Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson is calling Brandon Knight the “most important player” on the team … Breaking down who might get the final roster spot on the San Antonio Spurs … Orlando Magic players seem to like playing for new coach Frank Vogel so far …


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