The Rockets were a mess last season.
James Harden and Dwight Howard clashed. Prized offseason acquisition Ty Lawson bombed. Houston fired coach Kevin McHale just 11 games into the season. The Rockets fell from 56 wins and the Western Conference finals to 41 wins and a first-round exit amid the disharmony.
Those conditions are apparently familiar, but Harden thinks they’re changing.
“It’s not even close,” Harden said of the mentality heading into camp compared to last season. “We’ve doing something I haven’t since I’ve been here in Houston. Just trying to shake things up, just trying to make sure we really know each other in and out on and off the court. I think that will translate to a better team.”
Harden said last season’s disharmony was “an extremely big problem.”
asked about what he hopes to accomplish beginning with Saturday’s first practices, he said, “To build something that I haven’t had since I’ve been here, that’s everybody on the same page, everybody in the same boat.”
The Rockets traded for Harden four days before their first game in 2012, so it’s understandable that team didn’t fully jell. The next year, Houston signed Howard – and it reportedly didn’t take long for Harden and Howard to try getting the other traded. With Howard leaving for the Hawks this offseason, Harden starts anew.
A new coach (Mike D’Antoni) helps, as does an unblemished record. This is the time of year for optimism.
Will it last? Harden, with Howard gone, probably thinks it will.
But Howard was neither all of the Rockets’ problems or a big enough one to hinder winning. Houston looked plenty cohesive when advancing to the conference finals with Harden and Howard two years ago.
There are rarely, if ever, teams with everyone completely on the same page. With 15 players in the locker room, somebody is bound to have a differing agenda.
The successful teams get enough of their players, ideally their best players, pulling in the same direction. They get the malcontents to go along well enough. Productive working relationships, not perfection, is the goal.
Can the Rockets find that this year? It’s on Harden to prove he was more of a victim than the source of the problems he says dogged the team his entire time in Houston.