“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.”
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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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December 14, 2017 | 5:56 am EST Update
Sam Amick: Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency, meaning his trade value will be depressed. Also, OKC is just 3 games out of 4th spot in the West. Still time…
The league is watching the George situation very closely, and there’s a general belief that the Thunder will have to act if they haven’t significantly improved a few months from now (there are 29 games left before the deadline). With every George trade inquiry – whether it’s Presti on the call or recently returned front office mate/former Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan, who often handles such discussions for OKC – executives will be eager to exploit the situation.
In the ESPN Insider story on what each team’s fans should look for as trade season begins, Marks suggested moving Harris was about numbers… Harris’ salary in particular. The former second-round pick is having a career season and will be an unrestricted free agent in July. If Brooklyn is looking to optimize Harris’ trade value, the window is now. If they hold onto him past Feb. 8, the Nets will either have to sign Harris to a contract that starts in the $5-6 million range or lose him for nothing. Expect the Nets to receive a good second-round pick if Harris is moved.
Except Noel rejected the deal. Then in August, he fired his agent, Happy Walters, and replaced him with Rich Paul, whose playbook is to push for larger deals, and to hold off on signing long-term extensions until the player has the leverage, especially with guys as young as Noel (23). There were reports at the time that Noel was pushing for a max deal. A league source adamantly told B/R recently, though, that those reports were incorrect and that there was actually no dialogue whatsoever with the Mavericks after the agency change.
Do he and Paul push for a trade after he returns from injury—and is there even a team willing to surrender assets for a player it knows could demand a $100 million deal this summer? It will be months before we get answers. For now, all Noel can do is sit back and wait. “I most definitely don’t regret anything. I’m not nervous because I know my abilities,” he told Bleacher Report. “I know what I’m capable of. I know what I can get on the court any time, day or night, and do. It’s simply getting the opportunity to show it.”
Despite the awful appearance, the internal dynamic remains – by all accounts – very positive. There has been no rotting of this superstar core, just a well-intentioned group that can’t seem to play consistently. From their respectable net rating (plus-1.2, 11th overall) to their stout defense (2nd overall), there are reasons to believe they’ll turn this around.
After coming up with a steal and hitting two free throws to ice the game in his first outing back in Indiana since being traded in June, Paul George walked off the floor Wednesday night and handed his shoes to the son of former teammate Monta Ellis. “I’m glad the circus is over with; now everybody can move on,” George said. “I understood what the environment was going to be coming into to tonight. My teammates did a great job of helping me battle this one tonight.”