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Since his breakthrough in Phoenix more than a decade ago, D’Antoni has preached tempo and spacing, with an abundance of picking, rolling and three-point shooting. Harden—a scorer by reputation, a playmaker at heart—is uniquely skilled to execute that playbook. Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”
Harden knew D’Antoni was innovative. But playing point guard? “I was shocked,” Harden said. “But I’ve always been a really good passer and a playmaker. As training camp came along and I started handling it, it came easier. I’m still learning to do it at a high level every single night. You are in control of the ball 90 percent of the game. But it feels good. Guys are getting shots, guys are happy and that’s what matters.”
He knew Harden was talented. But coaches need to know more about their best players in order to trust them. “I’ve never seen him practice before; I’ve never seen how he is on the floor; I’ve never seen if he likes to play,” D’Antoni said. “I’ve never seen all the intangibles you have to have to win a championship, and he’s demonstrated that. He’s taking guys out to dinner; you don’t know that (beforehand). I like that he loves to play basketball, and that, to me, is a key to any great player — they have to, when they come to the gym, they can’t wait to play. And he has that.”
Mark Berman: Mike D’Antoni says @James Harden accepted the transition to point guard “and then taken it to heights I couldn’t even imagine.” #Rockets pic.twitter.com/ryfgxj43GJ
Mark Berman: Mike D’Antoni on @James Harden: “He’s doing things that have never been done.” #Rockets pic.twitter.com/9wzIxZFOMK
“They see the floor extremely well and orchestrate all kinds of things,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They probably have in their head better plays than we can diagram so you give them a long rope to play the game and you trust them totally. He is one of the rare, few guys that by himself influences every game. Like James does, Chris Paul does.”
As much as Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has praised the play of guard James Harden, he said a large part of the success goes back to before the season started when Harden quickly took to D’Antoni’s style and his role. “If he doesn’t buy in to how I would like to coach, then obviously we’re not made for each other,” D’Antoni said. “From day one, he’s embraced the point guard role. He’s done everything humanly possible to make us a good team and our record reflects that. That’s the whole key. Ownership, management, your star player – they have to buy in.”
Sirius XM NBA: Mike D’Antoni on James Harden offensive ability: “He is one of the best pick & roll players I have ever seen” @Houston Rockets
In the end, this is why the Harden-D’Antoni relationship has to be at the core of the Rockets’ season. For D’Antoni’s system to flourish, it needs Harden to be the engine. Looking back in Los Angeles and New York, 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.
Calvin Watkins: Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said James Harden, who will now become the full-time point guard can be a different version of Steve Nash, who ran the up-tempo seven seconds or less offense in Phoenix. “Sometimes he will be (slower) sometimes he’ll be a faster version,” D’Antoni said. “Steve is not like your traditional jet. Steve had his pace and Jeremy Lin had his pace and guys had their pace and all the point guards I ever coached had their way of doing it and those are very good players. He’ll have his way. I don’t know if we’ll time him, ‘Ok, he’s fast or slow. It will be fast enough to score.”
Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday morning that shooting guard James Harden is changing positions. He’s becoming a full-time point guard. “With James you make a joke he’s a ‘points guard’ because he’s going to score some points,” D’Antoni said. Under the new up-tempo offense, D’Antoni has decided to put the ball in Harden’s hands more than last season, like a traditional point guard, to get opposing defenses off him in the half court. It should also allow Harden to become more of a playmaker.
Morey believes that Harden will do that, while benefiting from the D’Antoni hire. “I think the fit is excellent,” Morey said of D’Antoni and Harden working together. “They had a strong relationship from USA Basketball and their basketball philosophies mesh very well.”
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April 27, 2017 | 6:04 am EDT Update
Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers fully expects Steve Kerr to find a solution to his debilitating health issues and be back on the bench without being forced out of coaching altogether because of complications from two back surgeries. It just might not be right away. Myers says, “What he’s facing is fixable.” The 51-year-old Kerr plans to be examined at Stanford this week and is away from the team until he feels well enough to return.
Veteran forward Nick Collison said Wednesday he plans to continue his playing career. “I wasn’t sure going into the season how I would feel at the end of the year, but I still enjoy playing, and I enjoy being around the group,” Collison said. “I enjoy being on the team, and I still think I have something to offer.”
The Thunder will go its separate ways for the offseason, but one player will be back in an Oklahoma City uniform this summer. Rookie Domantas Sabonis plans to play for the Thunder’s team at the Orlando Pro Summer League in July.
“It’s the same thing I went through,” Wall told The Vertical of Beal’s steady climb. “A lot of people get success later on, and a lot of us get it late. Both of us are getting it late in our career, but that doesn’t define what you did early in our career, because we still showed glimpses. We just never were healthy and never had a great team. He put in the work and is deserving of everything he’s got. All you can do is keep going up. And all we can do is keep getting better and better as a tandem.”
When a reporter asked Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg if Isaiah Thomas carried the ball during the Boston Celtics’ Game 5 win on Wednesday night, Hoiberg abruptly stood up and left the podium. “No,” was all he said before getting up and walking away.