HOUSTON - Monday afternoon, the Rockets introduced James Harden to Houston during an introductory press conference featuring the 23-year-old guard and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. What follows is a transcript of the media event.
Daryl Morey's opening statement: We’ve worked hard to get back to being a championship contender and we feel like James Harden is a player we can build around and continue to improve the team around his skills. He’s an elite offensive player, a complete player, can pass, shoot, attack the basket.
Even though he’s a gold medalist as an Olympian and made the Finals, I still think he’s an underrated player. He’s absolutely someone that, when they see him step into the role of the star of the Houston Rockets, people are going to realize just how good he is.
James Harden: I’m excited to be here. The organization has done a great job. They’ve made me feel welcome. Being around the guys all day today, I think we can have something special here. We’re young, but those guys want to work and get better.
The sky’s the limit for us. Our chemistry is going to get better every single day and it’s going to start clicking. We’re going to have an opportunity to do some great things.
On the process of being notified of the trade:
Harden: It happened pretty fast. I was at dinner and (Thunder General Manager) Sam Presti called me and said I’d been traded to the Rockets and I was kind of in shock. At the same time, it’s a business. I feel great, I feel comfortable in this position with the Houston Rockets
How will the Olympic experience help you with the team moving forward?
Harden: This is only my fourth year but I think I’ve experienced a lot in these past three years, being in the Finals and this past summer with all those other guys: LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo. So I think the experience that I’ve seen, hopefully I can bring the leadership to this organization. It’s going to take a lot of work.
Do you feel comfortable being a leader on this team?
Harden: Definitely. I’ve come off the bench these past three years but before then, in college, I was a leader. I was a leader with the Thunder but I had a different role. Now I’m getting back to my starter ways and being a leader on the court and being that first option which I think I’m definitely ready for. Were going to grow together. It’s going to be a building process but we’re going to grow and we’re going to get better and that’s all that matters.
Did this trade come out of nowhere?
Morey: Sam Presti, who obviously does an unbelievable job for Oklahoma City, they knew that maybe things weren’t going to work out with James so they talked to, I think, every team in the league in September to gauge interest and then things came together over the past week, I guess, as they made a strategic decision to potentially trade him.
I actually didn’t think they’d trade him. I think he’s a great, great player. I think he’s already playing at an All-Star level and is going to be a perennial All-Star and those players are rarely traded so I thought, frankly, it was going to work out there. I’m very happy for the Houston Rockets that he’s here.
Then when we were able to talk to James it was real exciting because I think our goals and his goals are aligned: We want to win a championship and this is a place where he can win a championship as a foundational player for a team.
How does Jeremy Lin’s game complement your style of play?
Harden: We’re similar. He’s a point guard but he can obviously score the ball. He makes tremendous decisions. He can pass the ball and it’s tough to guard him. It’s the same with me: I can score but I’m unselfish as well. We’re going to work off each other and then we’ll find a way to get our bigs and shooters involved.
I think it’s going to be great. You saw what he did last year when he had that great run and he’s capable of a lot more. So we’ll sit down and talk and figure things out and how to make the most of each other.
What does being a first-option guy mean to you on this team?
Harden: It might take some time just because I was coming off the bench. A lot more minutes will be played and a lot more scoring opportunities, a lot more opportunities with the ball in my hand, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been in that position before and I’m ready for it.
I think the difference with me is I’m not just a scorer. If I have a bad shooting night and I go 2-for-15, I can do other things; I can have eight assists and eight rebounds and a couple steals. I play well defensively. So it’s not just offense for me.
Daryl, why do you feel he can do that?
Morey: I’ve watched him play (laughs). He played well in so many different environments. Obviously playing with Kevin (Durant) and Russell (Westbrook) he played well, but if you really studied the film, and I’d like to think our scouting staff is as diligent as any in the league – I think we are – when he had to carry the load with those guys off the floor he excelled. When there was just one of them on the floor he excelled. Really, frankly, in all environments (he excelled).
We did like what James talked about: That he’s someone who’s focused mostly on winning and helping his teammates, so if there’s a situation where on a given night they’re packing the paint, he can step out and shoot. If his shot is off, he can facilitate for others. If it’s a critical moment in the game and we need to get to the line to ensure a good possession, he’ll get to the line. So we’re obviously thrilled and I have no doubts he can step into a bigger role.
Daryl, can a player like Harden make Houston more attractive as an NBA destination?
Morey: I do think that’s a big factor in the NBA. I think we have an unbelievable city, top-five in the league, for players wanting to play here. When you add to that a James Harden as our All-Star, and we’ve got now multiple other players who players around the league say, ‘Hey, I want to play with that guy.’
Omer Asik is someone who’s going to emerge to be that. He might not be there (now), but I think the fans who are here who are obviously diehards know that, the way Omer is playing, he’s going to be someone everyone is going to want to play with with his ability to pass, defend and rebound. Jeremy Lin is obviously someone who is exciting to play with and it going to keep improving at his age. Chandler Parsons obviously only going into his second year but it such a team guy, defender, passer. We’re really putting together a young core that other players around the league are going to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there.’
And after we extend James we’re going to have max salary room going forward as well to add a very significant player when the time is right.
How surprised were you that a player like Harden was available?
Morey: Shocked. I actually can’t come up with any examples of a player of his caliber and age getting traded at the time he was traded – it really has never happened. So we were obviously very aggressive and we gave up a lot – Oklahoma City does a great job; we gave up some great players in Kevin (Martin) and Jeremy (Lamb) and some great draft picks – but a top player like James really never gets traded so we jumped at the chance.
How does this change the team?
Morey: Well I think to win the title you’ve got to have a foundational player and James is that. Simple as that. Now our job is to add another significant player or have one of our young guys develop into an All-Star-caliber player. You probably need two to really be a championship contender. We’re not there yet but we’ve got multiple young players who can take a step forward and we also have max cap room to get it done going forward, so he changes the whole dynamic.
Then just on the floor, for offense we’re going to play up-tempo and get a lot of easy baskets that way, but our half-court offense was pretty challenged given our roster (prior to the tarde), and James is probably a top-five in the league talent on offense.
Are you relieved to have finally landed an All-Star type player?
Morey: I don’t know if relief is the right word. Frankly, (Rockets owner) Mr. Alexander is a winner; he’s won two titles and he wants to get back there. A GM in 1950 would say to win the title you have to have an All-Star player. We feel like we have one now and, frankly, we want more than one. But you’ve got to get one first and we’ve got one, and we’re going to move forward from there.
I know James hasn’t been voted in (to the All-Star game) yet, but it’s going to happen – this is the year, in Houston, and I feel very good about him being added to the (All-Star) team this year.
James, what will you have to work on to improve your game?
Harden: With the Thunder, I had Kevin and Russell, so the possessions and plays were distributed. Now I’m getting a lot more play calls. Coach and I talked today and he said, ‘You’re going to get play calls,’ but he said the offense is basically pass and play basketball, freelancing, and I think we’ve got a lot of guys who can create and our bigs are very good passers, great passers. I think this preseason they led the (league) in assists. So we’ve got a lot of guys who can play basketball and are smart and really can think the game and that’s going to make the game a lot easier, not only for me but for the entire team.
What made Houston so appealing to you?
Harden: Well, like (Morey) said, it’s one of the top-five cities in the NBA. Obviously the fans, the market, everything is beautiful. So it’s kind of different for me coming from Oklahoma City, which is unbelievable too, but obviously this is much bigger. We can grow here. We can really grow and build something special.
Daryl, do you think this takes pressure off Jeremy from being the face of the franchise?
Morey: I think it takes pressure off every player. Anytime you add an elite talent, especially one who can makes plays for others like James, he’s going to make the game easier for every other player and improve the games of everybody; plus his experience of being in the Finals – that was something we were lacking. We know he’s young but he’s someone who’s had significant success and gone through many, many playoff series and that experience is something that’s really going to be valuable.
James, have you had any conversations with Durant or Westbrook since the trade?
Harden: Yeah, I actually talked to Kevin last night. He called me and he’s still in shock. Like I said, it happened so fast. I think he was at a football game when he found out and I think he said he stopped watching the game he was so upset. But it’s a business – it happens that way. We built something special there – it didn’t work out. You’ve got to move on. We’re still going to be brothers but it’s a new journey.
It’s definitely sad (to say goodbye) but like I said it’s a new journey for me, a new growth for me to move into something special. Being one of the focal points of this offense, it’s a great opportunity. Great organization, front office, great young guys, great chemistry and willing to work. So like I said, I’m excited, very excited to be here.
Daryl, how do the team’s expectations change from where they were last Friday to today?
Morey: Our goal has been the same: To make the playoffs. Obviously James gives us a much better chance. I do think the Western Conference is still extremely tough and it will be a battle from day one but our chances got a lot better.