Hines’s runs later moved to the Sports Academy, formerly known as the Mamba Sports Academy, where workouts were already in progress. Superstars from around the league descended on the complex, including Durant, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, and James Harden. On one occasion, all four played on the same court. Paul and Harden, who were reportedly at odds during Paul’s two-year stint in Houston, seemed to be on good terms during the run, according to one person who witnessed it.
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From my seat inside the arena Monday, for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 104-100 win over Houston in Game 6, I could see Paul looking down toward Thunder coach Billy Donovan with 3.8 seconds left. What the TNT camera showed was Paul and Harden standing next to each other at the foul line, while Danilo Gallinari was about to make the game-clinching free throw, staring daggers through each other. But their eyes never met. “I wasn’t looking at him,” Paul told me. “I was looking down at coach, and then at the scoreboard, because if Gallo makes that shot, it’s game.”
Brian T. Smith: Harden said he is “good” with Chris Paul. “Obviously as teammates, as competitors, we argued on the court. … The negative media stuff, it wasn’t true. … Me and Chris had constant communication.” #Rockets #Thunder #NBA
Brian T. Smith: James Harden on Chris Paul: “He’s a great dude. I have nothing negative to say about him.” #Rockets #Thunder #NBA
Adam Wexler: .@JHarden13 on Chris Paul and all the media chatter the last few weeks, said it was all ” false talk. Chris was great with him while he was here, great leader. Guys have disagreements on the court all the time. I’ve got nothing negative to say about Chris.” @KPRC2
David Hardisty: Austin Rivers said the Harden-Paul beef never happened and was fabricated by the media: “That was bullsh*t whoever started that. Somebody ended up tarnishing a relationship that wasn’t tarnished. That goes to show you how much power media does have.”
The two were seen getting into it on the court near the end of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, which TV cameras picked up. Words were exchanged, and it was clear that neither was happy with the other. And now, according to a report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, we know what was allegedly said. “Chris barked at James, and James turned to him — this was described to me by a player who was on the court — and he said, ‘With you it’s always f—ing something,’” Windhorst stated.
Tim MacMahon: The tension between James Harden and Chris Paul, which Rockets considered manageable and not unusual for NBA alpha dogs, didn’t factor into decision to make the trade for Russell Westbrook. Source: “That would not have driven us to do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done.”
Paul and Harden have been communicating since the season ended and had a positive conversation on Father’s Day, sources said. According to sources close to Paul and Harden, the two players must continue working toward fixing any issues and accomplish the goals they both have set out: Winning a championship in Houston.
Does the way he’s wired still help the group? PJ Tucker: I don’t see how it can’t (help the group). I can’t be around somebody who wants to win like that and not want to win. So if you can’t do that, then this might not be where you need to be, because that’s the stuff you need to be able to win. I wasn’t (sweating the recent reports). I ain’t talking to nobody, because I know. I live it every day. There’s nobody on our team together more than me and James and Chris, so why would I sweat it?
By then, the day’s celebration of basketball might have made it difficult to get too worked up over the off-season rumor mill. Paul was much more effusive about that cause, but he did briefly address speculation that he wants to leave the Rockets and that there is a rift with star backcourt mate James Harden. “I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”
On Wednesday, Fox Sports 1 host Skip Bayless repeated a false claim tweeted by a parody account stating that NBA star James Harden stormed out of several Houston Rockets practices in tears after his teammate Chris Paul mocked his “manboobs.” With Harden and Paul’s “unsalvageable” relationship being the focus of sports media this week, a parody Twitter account posing as ESPN’s top NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that sources say Paul had insulted Harden’s figure.
The report cited Paul’s frustration with the offense and a push for more ball movement and off-ball actions, a la Golden State. But Paul isn’t the only one. Several members of the team expressed similar opinions throughout the year and into the offseason, including Eric Gordon’s frustration after a blowout loss in Utah, and continuing with Austin Rivers’ appearance recently on First Take. Per team sources, those complaints have been heard and management has discussed a system that involves less isolation basketball and more ball movement heading into next season. Speeding the game up and looking for easier baskets was also brought up in conversations, per a team source.
For what it’s worth, Houston doesn’t see this as a real problem. One source harkened back to the Dwight Howard days, for a real broken and dysfunctional relationship. “There will always be tension when you’re trying to get shit right,” cited one team source. “Every aspect of basketball gets debated at some point, and the way we lost sucked. “We’ve had players (in the past) who didn’t care about anything other than themselves and wanted everyone else to shore them up. We don’t see (Harden/Paul tension) as a big deal.”
“I think they’re close,” Danuel House told The Athletic. “They talk all the time, they do a lot together and they joke all the time. But they work differently.” “I felt like there wasn’t any tension, me personally being there. But being a younger guy and sticking to my role and trying to lock in, I can’t really focus on what happened or what’s been said or done.”
Asked if Paul or his representatives had asked that he be traded, Morey said, “No. Can you convey my disdain in my ‘no.’ It’s so annoying at this point. “I’ve talked to Chris since (they were eliminated by the Warriors), for sure. Myself, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden are all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump. That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We’re all in the same boat, pursuing the championship. We’re all frustrated we’re not there. But there is nothing past that.”
Mark Berman: #Rockets owner @Tilman Fertitta on James Harden & Chris Paul: “These are 2 very competitive athletes & all they want to do is win a championship together for the Houston Rockets. We’re excited to have them back and we look forward to using this opportunity to try to be successful”
Jonathan Feigen: Daryl Morey gave an example: Said he had Harden and Paul on face time with him as they discussed 50 free agents together. Said he has spoken to both players quite a few times since the season with no indications either has changed their stance.
Jonathan Feigen: A thoroughly exasperated Daryl Morey said Chris Paul and his reps have never asked to trade him and he will be on Rockets next season. Said he and Harden do not have issues with one another and that he has spoken to both often this off-season about free agency evaluations, plans.
Alykhan Bijani: Chris Paul denies Harden/Paul rumors on Instagram: “🤷🏾♂️ Damn! That’s news to me…” #Rockets
Alykhan Bijani: Daryl Morey says Chris Paul and James Harden are NOT AVAILABLE IN TRADES. “We spent a lot of time putting together two superstars. We’re trying to add a third, going backwards from that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise. Harden hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this offseason, sources said, after a year in which the pair repeatedly got under each other’s skin with petty acts in practices and games.
“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.” Paul’s injury-related absences and grating personality have annoyed Harden, sources said.
Harden’s ball-dominant style and unwillingness to give others like Paul space to operate have grated on Paul, leading to the nine-time All-Star issuing his trade demand to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey after the season. Sources said Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni about the offense bogging down after Harden would ask to come into the game to join the second unit, with Paul heading to the bench. “It can’t be fixed,” another league source told Yahoo Sports about the Harden-Paul partnership.
Daryl Morey on 790: “Chris Paul Does Not Want to Be Traded, We Want to Add”
SportsTalk 790: .@SeanUnfiltered: “Does Chris Paul want to be traded?” @dmorey: “No, Chris Paul does not want to be traded.” @SeanUnfiltered: “Will you field calls on Chris Paul?” @dmorey: “No, we want to add one more star to this team.”
The prevailing belief in Houston — and hope, certainly — is that the tension between the Rockets’ stars isn’t atypical for the NBA and can be managed. And that’s a must, given the unlikelihood of getting equal basketball value for the 34-year-old Paul in a trade, considering he is owed $124 million over the final three years of his contract.
According to sources, Paul was also frustrated by what he perceived as Harden’s tendency to ignore unglamorous details that impact winning — such as moving when he gives up the ball to help spacing — and wasn’t shy about expressing those concerns. “It’s always a little contentious when you have two alpha dogs,” a team source says. “Ask the Golden State Warriors if they’ve ever had problems between their stars.
It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.
Harden, by nature, tends to avoid conflict but was pushed hard enough to snap back at Paul from time to time. That’s what happened during the Rockets’ elimination loss, when, team sources said, Harden told Paul he didn’t always know best and had talked too much. “Chris has a personality where he just doesn’t let anything go,” a team source says. “He just keeps pestering and pestering and pestering and pestering. Sometimes James has had enough — and not just him. That’s what makes [Paul] a winner and also what keeps him from being a big-time winner. He’s got to temper that.”
Alykhan Bijani: Austin Rivers on the reported altercation between Chris Paul and James Harden: “Never happened. I literally don’t know where this came from. There was no altercation between CP or James….That loss in Game 6 was so deflating, no one said anything after the game.” #Rockets
Paul’s remaining contract (three years, $124 million) and advancing age (34) does make deal possibilities somewhat prohibitive. The Harden-Paul dynamic wasn’t without its challenges this year for the Rockets, league sources said.
Mark Berman: Mike D’Antoni on a report by The Athletic of a verbal disagreement between James Harden and Chris Paul during the game 6 loss to Golden State and after in the locker room: “It was definitely blown out of proportion. Those are discussions that happen (with every) good team that..”
But Harden and Paul had tense moments with one another throughout Game 6, culminating in a verbal back-and-forth postgame that went into the locker room, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Sources said the verbal exchange between Harden and Paul was regarding the ball distribution throughout Game 6. By the time the remainder of the locker room was ready to talk, Paul and Harden had gone their separate ways, with Paul swiftly making his way to the postgame podium. The Rockets dispensed with exit interviews this year, so the media hasn’t been able to ask Paul or Harden about the disappointment.
The Houston Rockets point guard says it’s his teammate, reigning MVP James Harden, who sits on the proverbial throne when it comes to offensive talent. “I say it all the time, he’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Paul said following Houston’s 102-97 win over Utah on Monday night — a game in which Harden scored 47 points and hit 15 of his 16 free throws. “Like, seriously. He can drive, he can shoot, he’s got ball handling. It’s going to be a tough night for you, whoever it is. I don’t care what you’re doing.”
Jonathan Feigen: Another from Harden to tide you over before the link in a bit: “He’s an old man,” Harden said of Chris Paul, “but he’s such a competitor that that drives me every single day to be the best like him. I am grateful to be playing besides one of the best point guards ever.”
Jonathan Feigen: James Harden said Chris Paul has brought up the Rockets comeback from down 3-1. “He’s mentioned it.”
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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January 21, 2021 | 12:06 pm EST Update
Duane Rankin: Memphis next 3 games – 1-22 at Blazers 1-24/25 vs. Kings – have been postponed in accordance with #NBA health/safety protocols. They’re being postponed due to unavailable players for Grizzlies, contact tracing for other players on roster and to ensure health/safety of both teams
Adrian Wojnarowski: The NBA is erring on the side of caution with what still appears to be isolated COVID-19 exposure within the Grizzlies, sources tell ESPN. These postponements aren’t a result of several individuals being placed into the league’s Health and Safety protocol.
Chris Herrington: Per league source, the Grizzlies have one (and only one) active positive case. The rest of this postponement is due to contact tracing/caution. My sense is it’s another reflection of the league further tightening its protocols.
January 21, 2021 | 10:39 am EST Update
While the Nets starters tired and Harden, Irving and Durant played the final 18:45 together, Brooklyn’s best on-ball defender, Bruce Brown, sat on the bench. Brown’s 6-2 frame made for an ideal matchup to potentially cool down Sexton, who is 6-1, but after seeing the reserves struggle in the second quarter, Nash elected to tighten his rotations and play just nine all game. After the game, Brooklyn’s stars said Sexton hit a lot of difficult shots on them and his performance isn’t a total reflection of the defense. “He made some tough shots,” Harden said. “And if he missed those shots, is it good defense? No, he made some tough shots, everybody’s tired at that point, and I think we did enough, especially in the fourth quarter and first overtime. I don’t know how many points he had in that second overtime, but I think he had the majority of them. Chalk your hat up to him.”
Irving said his time in Cleveland with LeBron James and Kevin Love taught him that resolve, compromise and sacrifice was necessary for the Cavaliers to win at a high level. Irving thinks the same can happen in Brooklyn with his new star-studded team. Like his last one, it isn’t going to happen immediately. “We’ll have good nights, we’ll have great nights, but it’s how we galvanize as a group together,” Irving said. “It’s how we sacrifice and compromise for the greater good. And that still remains to be seen. Obviously, one game is out of the way, but I’m excited for what’s to come.”
His teammates have noticed a difference in him, too. Osman has noted the advancements in Sexton’s game from his rookie year to now. Sexton is competitive on the defensive end of the floor, he’s making the extra pass and his assists this season are up to 3.7 per game. “Obviously, last year he was better, and this year he’s even better,” Osman said. “He made like 14 or 15 points in a row, and then there was good defense on him, but then he found TP (new Cavalier Taurean Prince) in the corner for a 3-point shot that was wide open. That was a beautiful play from Collin. He could have taken that one too but saw TP was open, and that was the right play, so he made the right play. You can see from his first year until now — he’s just getting better every day.”