2020 Media Week

Rockets adjust to revamped roster as Cousins, Wall reunite

After trading Russell Westbrook for John Wall and adding several players in free agency, the Rockets begin to settle in under new coach Stephen Silas.

DeMarcus Cousins is gearing up for his first season with the Rockets.

New Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas revealed Thursday he hasn’t yet spoken with superstar guard James Harden in the wake of the club agreeing to trade Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a reported lottery-protected 2023 first-round draft pick.

Silas maintains that he prefers to give Harden “some space,” but expressed confidence his former MVP guard will be “all-in” when the Rockets finally come together Sunday to tip off full team workouts at training camp.

“I haven’t spoken to him since the trade,” Silas said Thursday on a Zoom call. “And to be honest with you, in situations like this when stuff like this kind of happens where there’s a little indecision and stuff going on, I kind of take a step back and allow guys some space. “So, from my perspective, my communication has been, ‘I’m giving you space,’ and that’s kind of where it’s been as far as my communication with him.

“Guys like that need that. They need to figure it out and they don’t need someone banging on them all the time to kind of figure it out where they’re at and whatnot. As far as the organization, I’m not sure. I can only speak for myself. But I’m looking forward to him coming, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the team looks like with everybody on the floor. I’m confident that he’ll be all-in, that’s where I’m leaving it. As I said, I’m giving him the space to do his thing. But I’m confident he’ll be here when we get started.”

Harden reportedly expressed a desire last month to be traded, but according to multiple reports, the Rockets have indicated no plans at the moment to fulfill that request and expect the 2018 MVP to be on the roster for the start of the regular season. In addition to the trade for Wall, the organization made other moves to improve the supporting cast around Harden such as the free-agent additions of versatile, athletic big men Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins, while providing more optionality in terms of playing style for a Houston team that last season committed exclusively to playing small ball.

“I wanted to have multiple ways to play, and those guys allow me to do so,” Silas said. “To have John Wall pushing the ball up the floor and either passing ahead to a running wing or keeping it and getting the ball into the paint and making all of the great passes that he’s made over his career, that is accentuated by playing the way that I want to play: five-out with space and allowing guys to get into the paint and do their thing.

“To have Christian Wood trail the play and be able to roll and pop and play in a very similar way that I had [Kristaps] Porzingis playing when I was offensive coordinator in Dallas, I see that as a positive in another kind of way and option for us to play. Then to have [Cousins] out there, we’re not necessarily gonna be in small ball quite as much. We can play big ball, and he can be out there showing all the gifts that he has. He looks really good on the basketball floor doing his individual workouts right now, and he’s working hard to get back. So, the optionality that I talked about in the initial press conference is accentuated by having those three new guys to join the team.”

Cousins hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season with the Golden State Warriors, when he averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30 regular-season outings as he returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered the previous season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Even Cousins’ time with the Warriors was cut short, as the 6-foot-10 center suffered a torn left quadriceps in the opening round of the 2019 playoffs that kept him off the floor until the NBA Finals.

DeMarcus Cousins met with the media Thursday for the first time as a member of the Rockets.

Cousins signed with the Los Angeles Lakers the next season, but before that campaign even started, he suffered a torn ACL during preseason workouts that kept him off the floor the entire season.

Now a Houston Rocket, Cousins joins former Kentucky teammate Wall, who hasn’t played since Dec. 26, 2018 and has missed the last two seasons with Achilles’ tendon and knee injuries.

“I feel like I went through a situation that a lot of people would’ve [given] up or quit. I just took it as, ‘This is my life lesson,’” Cousins said. “It’s just preparing me for whatever’s next. Life is full of adversity, and every battle that you go through prepares you for the next one. That’s how I approached it. Also, I want to inspire the next. I’m not the only person that’s going through hard times or have gone through hard times. I’m not saying I went through the worst situation. When those times come, just fight through, roll with the punches.”

Cousins described his pending reunion with former Kentucky teammate Wall as “an incredible feeling.” Cousins and Wall have known one since they were 14, and the five-time NBA All-Star guard even served as a groomsman last August at the big man’s wedding.

After two-plus years of injuries, how much does DeMarcus Cousins have left?

“This is something that me and him have planned and dreamed about for a long time. So, I’m pretty sure he’s just as grateful for this moment as I am,” Cousins said. “We’re super excited. There’s obviously a chemistry between me and him from our college days. That’s a guy I consider one of my better friends in the NBA. That’s a brother for life. I’m extremely excited to be on the floor with him.”

Cousins called Wall “an incredible talent,” adding that “I think the combination of him and James, that’s tough for any team to match up with; pushing at the pace that they play with, the force that they play with, their playmaking abilities. They’re gonna make the game easier for everybody around them, and our job is come out there and make the game easier for them.”

Cousins believes the current incarnation of the Houston Rockets represents the most well-rounded collection of talent since Harden joined the Rockets in 2012.

“I think we have all the pieces to make a lot of noise this season,” Cousins said. “Obviously on paper it looks great, but we have to come out there and put it all together. Obviously, James and John with their playmaking ability, C-Wood with his different intangibles and his versatility on both ends of the floor, myself with the same things, P.J. [Tucker] being one of the best defensive guys in the league, Eric [Gordon] shooting the crap out the ball; same thing goes with the other guys on the roster.”

Having spent time with the Lakers and the Warriors for the past two seasons, Cousins pointed out he’s “learned from some of the best in the game,” and wants to bring “a winning mindset, winning culture, [and] a team-first attitude,” into the Rockets locker room.

As for Wall, Silas said he’s still taking in information from Houston’s medical staff to determine how to proceed with putting the new guard on the floor as training camp approaches. Silas mentioned that in his offense, “you don’t have to have a prototypical point guard, you just have to have playmakers.” Obviously, both Harden and Wall fit that description. Silas said he doesn’t plan to make drastic changes to the offense and expects Harden will likely handle the ball the majority of the time.

Still, the addition of Wall provides options. Silas “can’t wait” to see how it all takes shape now that Houston’s roster is finally set.

“Really, with his size, speed, passing ability and ability to get to the rim, there’s just so many things you can do, especially now that the game has changed,” Silas explained. “The game has changed so much in a good way for him because we’re playing with so much space. I’d say there was a lot of uncertainty prior to the roster being set. Now that the roster is set, I think there’s more excitement than anything else.

“Everybody is excited about the possibilities that we have; us having multiple ways to play on both ends of the floor and having the talent of DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Christian Wood to meld with the previous guys that were on the team. Now that the roster is set and we’re moving towards the first day of training camp, it seems like everybody’s in a positive place.”

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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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