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Alex Kennedy: Harden on playing with CP3: “We’re both so competitive and just want to win. I’m willing to take a backseat to him if he’s got it going and he’s willing to [do the same]. We know the game really well, so both of us can see things before they happen.”
Jonathan Feigen: Harden on the Rockets have one All-Star: “Obviously, everybody knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets. The Rockets have the No. 1 (record). How does that happen? It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I said what I said.”
Chris Paul and James Harden, both survivors of superstar marriages that either crumbled or expired, spoke last spring about ways to help each other. Harden could demonstrate the benefits of a modern offense; Paul could share defensive expertise. By taking turns with the ball, they’d sacrifice stats but potentially extend seasons and careers. “They broke down situations,” says Irv Roland, a trusted Rockets player development coach who has trained Harden since he was 19 and Paul since he was 20. “‘I’ll get the ball inbounds, you take off and I’ll kick ahead to you. Will you be O.K. with that?'”
“We ask so much of James Harden, and that’s why we went out and got Chris Paul,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Because James was making every determining play, and he gets tired. Anybody would. So there are moments where he’s completely overloaded, and he has a turnover. And now, we can take all those plays away from him — when he’s making, instead of 50 decisions, let’s say 40, or 30. It’s 30 without being tired decisions. That’s huge.”
“That’s always a risk,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve talked about it. Everybody understands the importance of winning. In the long run, that’s what it’s all about. There will be days. Everybody gets grumpy. That’s a normal part of the job process. I think [Chris Paul and James Harden have] bought in. They know that’s how it’s going to be. Maybe you only get 28 minutes. Maybe you only get 15 when you used to get 20. Trevor Ariz playing 35 minutes a game, you might play 30. Some days, they may be grumpier than others, but basically, they’re good guys. They want to do what is best for the team.”
The Rockets cited their defensive lulls and pointed out that they will face a greater challenge in Memphis on Saturday. But they had brought Chris Paul back without a hitch, showing signs of what they can be if they can put all of their wealth of talent together. “He looks really good on the court,” Harden said. “Obviously, he looks comfortable. The more he gets his wind back and gets more minutes, he’ll get even better. “I think that’s how we’ve been all year, that happiness of wanting to compete for each other. Obviously, he brings that extra excitement. Once he gets back full healthy and Luc (Mbah a Moute, who was out with an illness) comes back and we have that full roster, we’ll ride it out and see how good we can be.”
Nothing changed. No adjustments. No feeling-out process. Perhaps Rockets guard James Harden might have had to tweak things a bit had Chris Paul not been hurt in the preseason, limiting him to one game in the first few weeks of the season. But Harden has generally run the Rockets’ offense as he has since Mike D’Antoni put him at point guard last year and turned him loose. “My approach is try to be the best player on the court every single night no matter who is on the court,” Harden said. “My approach won’t change. Obviously, I have to get better at certain things, whether it is defensively or offensively. Other than that, just try to be the best I can be. That never changes.”
Chris Paul: “One of the biggest things I was looking forward to this year is to be able to watch somebody as talented as James. Our whole team is one thing, but James is special, man. I catch myself sometimes watching. I’ve got to get used to it, but he’s unreal.”
NBA TV’s Open Court season preview program saw some of the faces we’ve gotten used to analyzing the NBA in Shaq, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and a few other former players including former Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale. When prompted to talk about the arrival of Chris Paul in Houston, he spoke volumes about how great of a move it was partially stemming from the fact that his former player, James Harden isn’t a leader.
Kevin McHale: “Chris Paul is going to push him, too. When [Harden] does that stab in the back after he doesn’t get a foul looking at the referee, Chris Paul is going to jump his butt and that’s going to make him a better player. I just think that Chris Paul will be good for James Harden. It will allow him to be what he is which is a phenomenal basketball player – not trying to lead a team, that’s just not his personality.”
Kevin McHale: “I’m not sure about that duo, yet, because when James Harden first came into the league, he played off the ball as the sixth man in O.K.C. You guys brought him to Houston, put him on the ball. Now, Chris Paul, his whole career, he’s been a guy that’s on the ball. James Harden had his best year last year playing on the ball – one of those guys is going to have to get off the ball, which one? I think Chris Paul is too small to be coming off screens so you’ve got to put him back on the ball which puts James Harden to his original position – is he going to pout, is he going to play? I’m not sure if I’m confident in that duo, yet. Time will tell.”
Paul seemed to enjoy himself. He was his most effective in his familiar playmaker role, but either way, he was at ease, as if the adjustments had already been made. “It felt natural,” Paul said. “We played a lot this summer. I think that helped a lot, talking about communicating, stuff like that. I got to fill the wing a couple times. It’s cool. It’s good. It’s great. You do what you have to do on the given team you’re on. I’m enjoying this. It’s too much fun, man. I’ve always said: I can get somebody an open shot. Guys are better shooters when they know coach won’t yell at them. They come off firing.”
“They’ll be great together,” Nenê said of Harden and Paul. “It will be an unbelievable experience to play with James and Chris. James is the best offensive player in the game and Chris is an amazing ball player as well. They can score from anywhere on the court and they both have a basketball IQ that’s off the charts. “When they have the ball, nobody will know what they’re going to do. That just makes my job, and my teammates’ jobs, a lot easier.”
Clint Capela: 😬😬 @CP3 @JHarden13
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March 21, 2018 | 7:57 am EDT Update
Paul Henning: Take it for what it is. But, @GeryWoelfel is close to Jabari and the Parker family. This morning @1057FMTheFan he reports Jabari was “very, very close to being traded” at deadline, feels there is “slim to none” chances that Jabari is on Bucks next season. Describing it as a mutual fallout between Bucks/Jabari that is rooted in Kidd’s treatment of Jabari since he was drafted. Bucks hold the cards with Jabari’s Restricted Free Agency ability to match. But, losing Jabari for nothing would be a huge blow to this teams future.
And while Thomas sees himself as a starter, he told The Times he wouldn’t rule out returning to the Lakers in a role similar to what he has now, coming off the bench for significant minutes. “I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”
Thomas knows that. And he knows what will be important to him this summer. “Obviously I want to make a lot of money, but I want to be where I’m wanted at and where the team wants me to be who I am,” Thomas told The Times. “And that’s being an All-Star. Being a special guard in this league.”
“I want to be great,” Thomas said. “I want to win MVP, I want to continue to be an All-Star. Their goals probably aren’t that yet. Coming straight into the league especially at 19, 20 years old. They’re in it for the experience just to figure things out on their own. And then on top of getting to the playoffs and winning championships, I want all that and it might not be their mindset yet. But at the same time being on this team I’m trying to put that in their heads that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Why not think big?”
Zach Lowe: What [did Kemba Walker] wanna know about [potentially getting traded after the Adrian Wojnarowski report came out]? Steve Clifford: I think I was more proactive with him, just explaining to him that A) there’s no untradeable player. Go back through NBA history, and player could be traded. But B) I told him it would be very difficult to find a scenario where he could be traded. And the fact that there were rumors, which is gonna happen, is because he’s such a good player making less money than he’s worth by a lot. So of course, there were gonna be calls.
Steve Clifford: That was the first part of it. Then I know after shootaround, by the time we had gotten back to the arena that night, Michael Jordan had called him and spoke to him, and explained to him that we weren’t looking to trade him. And basically we went through the whole thing. Kemba said that Michael was very forthcoming and said, ‘Listen. If there is an unbelievable trade with Player A and Player B, and it would make our team a lot better, of course, anybody could be traded.’ But then I explained to him, ‘Look, you’re not gonna be traded. You’re gonna be here. You’re the face of our franchise.’ And I thought Kemba handled it great.
Alex Kennedy: Have you had any conversations with NBA teams [since being waived by New Orleans]? Jordan Crawford: Yeah, I actually worked out for two playoff teams recently, so I’ve been in contact. After going to them and the feedback from them was that I’m ready and I’m in shape. I’m a veteran. Because I’ve been showing how humbled I’ve been, I’ve been going to the [G League] and I did Summer League before, I don’t want people to think that I just, that I have to prove myself every time to be on a roster. I carry myself as a professional.