Harden ready to help Rockets bounce back this season
HOUSTON (AP) When the NBA season tips off, James Harden will be able to run Mike D'Antoni's famed seven seconds or less offense in games that count.
The question is whether the scheme of Houston's new coach will be enough to help the Rockets bounce back after last year's disappointing season.
''We're very excited about what (D'Antoni) brings ... and the players all fit in with what he's been honing for a very long and successful coaching career,'' general manager Daryl Morey said.
Harden was second in the NBA with a career-high 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds were also career bests. But his individual improvement didn't translate to more success for the Rockets and they were ousted by Golden State in the first round of the playoffs after reaching the Western Conference finals the year before.
Then Dwight Howard opted out of the last year of his contract to play for Atlanta and Houston didn't make any major upgrades in an offseason that saw other top teams in the West get even stronger.
Harden remains confident that the Rockets will go further than last year and had a one word answer for what his expectations are for this season.
''Championship,'' he said.
He's excited about playing for D'Antoni and knows that playmakers like him normally thrive in his system.
''That's what he does,'' Harden said. ''He makes really good players better players. He has a formula that has proven it works.''
D'Antoni is giddy about having someone with Harden's ability in charge of his offense, and he's also happy about the players surrounding the star.
''I love them,'' he said. ''I think we have a good opportunity. The biggest thing is we have a lot of shooting and that cures a lot of things.''
Houston added a shooter in free agent Ryan Anderson , who led the NBA with 166 3-pointers in 2012, to help spread things out for Harden. He's eager to play with him and joked that he had more open looks in their pickup games this summer than he did in the last four years combined.
''Obviously James is the focal point of our team and we're pieces built around him,'' he said. ''I was brought here to be a piece to open the floor for him more, to help with shooting. I think we have every gap, every piece filled and also we really like each other and that combination goes a long way.''
Some things to know about the Rockets before they open the season on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers:
Starting point guard Patrick Beverley's status for the opener is uncertain because of a sore left knee. Beverley has been out since Oct. 2 with the injury and the Rockets haven't provided a date for his return. Beverley, who is one of Houston's best defenders, appeared in 71 games last season and averaged 9.9 points, 3.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game. If Beverley isn't ready, the Rockets will look to offseason acquisition Eric Gordon to fill in.
NEW AND OLD TEAMMATES
Anderson and guard Eric Gordon are both new to the Rockets this season, but they're not new teammates after both playing for the Pelicans for the together since 2012. Gordon said it's nice to have a familiar face in Houston to ease the adjustment to a new team.
''This will be a fifth season together now,'' Gordon said. ''I've (known) him for a while and it's just good to have him around.''
Houston signed Nene in the offseason, but he is expected to back up Clint Capela at center with Howard gone to Atlanta. The Rockets expect the 16-year veteran to help Capela with the transition from being a role player to a starter this season. However, they know that he'll also push Capela and try to get the starting job himself.
''I do think he's going to take a role like that,'' Morey said. ''But he's a very competitive guy and ... his first thing is let's help the team win and I'm going to go kick some tail. But I do think he'll be a good role model for Clint as well.''
Houston forward Sam Dekker is finally healthy after appearing in just three games last season before undergoing back surgery. Dekker, who was the 18th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has looked good in preseason and scored 16 points in 34 minutes in a preseason game against Memphis on Saturday.