NBA Rumor: D'Antoni-Harden Dynamic

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In that unsavory Game 6 of the first-round series against Oklahoma City, when Westbrook was just one game into his return and fans and media alike wondered why Harden wasn’t more assertive late in the 104-100 loss, sources say Westbrook repeatedly broke off plays and tried unsuccessfully to force his way back into the action when it mattered most. But the flip side of that coin is this: Harden let him, if only because he knew he would need Westbrook to find his way if they had any chance of accomplishing something special. And D’Antoni, the 69-year-old whose deft handling of the complicated Rockets stars was so apparent to anyone who watched closely, was the man in the middle who continues to inspire support from the organization’s two most important players.

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And for what it’s worth, D’Antoni’s instinct on the tide changing for Houston was correct. The Rockets went on to win eleven of their next twelve games following that road loss to Dallas, including wins over Portland, Los Angeles, Utah, San Antonio and Golden State – all legitimate playoff contenders. Most of the credit went to James Harden in that stretch, and rightfully so. Harden averaged a herculean 40.1 points, 9.0 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game on 63.9 true shooting percentage. However, if you ask Harden, he’ll give you a difference answer. “(Mike D’Antoni) was the catalyst,” Harden said in January when asked about Houston’s turnaround. “He gets us going, he motivates us. When things aren’t going great, he tells us that we’re going to turn it around. He kind of gives us the motivation that we all need, especially myself.”

D’Antoni and Harden have forged a truly unique relationship over the years that isn’t common among players and coaches. Rarely do you see such a symbiotic relationship where both parties place so much faith in each other. “I think he trusts me and I trust him totally and he knows I trust him,” D’Antoni told RocketsWire in January when asked about his relationship with Harden. “You know you’ll always have some disagreements or see the game a different way. We just keep going on (despite that). His talent is the best I’ve ever seen, especially on the offensive end. They don’t make ‘em like him. He just knows I have a belief in him that no matter what happens on the floor that (trust) is not going to be shaken.”

James Harden: After Coach took the job, we immediately got on the phone — talking about what went wrong last season, talking about our roster, talking about changes we could make. Normal intro-type stuff. It was clear he was smart as hell about basketball, but laid back, too. He was asking questions and listening, instead of acting like he already knew everything. I liked his vibe right away. And then before we hung up, he stopped and just said straight up: “Honestly, we need you to be the point guard.”

James Harden: I knew our team was going to be able to fill it up, but a run-and-gun team? It didn’t seem like our style. We were going to have to work the shot clock a little longer to get better shots. Coach’s response surprised me. He didn’t get defensive. He wasn’t even mad. He just told me that I was missing his point. Forget the position, he said. Watching film wasn’t about trying to copy the Suns offense or even about point guard. It wasn’t about a position on the court at all. Coach was talking about sacrificing for something bigger than myself.

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.”

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.”
5 years ago via ESPN

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.”
5 years ago via ESPN

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.
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December 4, 2021 | 8:41 pm EST Update