HOUSTON — Russell Westbrook knows he’s in for a huge change in his move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets.
And he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make the move work as he prepares to play with James Harden for the first time since 2012.
“To be able to win something you have to be able to sacrifice some parts of your game and we both understand that,” Westbrook said. “We both understand that we have one common goal and that’s to win championships. We understand what we have to do.”
Westbrook was introduced in Houston on Friday after being traded from the Thunder for Chris Paul and draft picks this month. General manager Daryl Morey beamed as he sat next to Westbrook when he made his first appearance as a Rocket.
“Obviously, we’re here for one reason only, to take that next step that we’ve been trying to do for the last few years,” Morey said.
The 2017 Most Valuable Player joins the Rockets after spending his first 11 seasons with Oklahoma City, which included playing with Harden in his first three seasons. Though the two are close friends and played together successfully with the Thunder, in the days since the trade, many have wondered if pairing these two ball-dominant guards will be successful in Houston.
Westbrook brushed off such concerns.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I know James is not worried about it. I can play off the ball. I don’t have to touch the ball to impact the game. I can do other things on the floor to make sure we have a better chance to win.”
Harden didn’t speak to reporters Friday, but did attend the press conference, sitting on the front row smiling at his buddy and often chuckling at Westbrook’s comments and jokes.
The Westbrook who showed up in Houston on Friday was a kinder and far less angry one than the version he was during last year’s playoffs when a sneering and glaring Westbrook made headlines more for his “next question” responses during press conferences than his play as the Thunder were eliminated by Portland in the first round.
He smiled often and laughed a lot, and when asked what he wished people knew about him he quickly responded with: “that I’m a nice guy.”
Westbrook said he’ll never stop playing with the intensity and attitude that he’s played with throughout his career, but seemed to be taking a step to try and repair the negative image that came from last year’s press conference antics by sharing thoughts on his personality.
“I’m going out to compete and going out to be able to win and I don’t really care how that looks and I’m always going to stay that way,” he said. “But I think off the floor it’s a huge thing figuring (out) and understanding that I am human. I am a human being. I am a good person, just so you guys know. And I do care about the community, my team, my teammates, everybody and I just want to do whatever I can to make sure we have a chance to win.”
The opportunity to win his first championship was the biggest lure to Westbrook’s desire to be in Houston. And the fact that it’s has him back with Harden, with whom he’s been friends with since he was 10 years old, made the chance too good to pass up.
“I thought it was the best decision for me and my career right now,” he said. “And to be able to reunite with my brother, a friend, to be able to do that is something that you dream about and you live for.”
Westbrook is an eight-time All-Star who has averaged a triple-double in each of the last three seasons. He led the NBA in assists in the last two seasons and ranked second in the two seasons before that. The 30-year-old has averaged 23 points, 8.4 assists and seven rebounds in his career and has played 80 or more games in seven seasons.
The Rockets hope his addition will help them win their first championship since taking back-to-back titles from 1994-95. After falling to the Warriors in the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and seeing the Lakers and Clippers make huge offseason moves, Houston is betting on Westbrook to elevate this Harden-led team.
“He plays with an energy, a passion and a will to win that I think is really unparalleled in the league,” Morey said.
And Westbrook is ready to show everyone that will to win with his new team.
“Scoring and having the ball in my hands is not the only thing I can do for the game,” he said. “I do a lot of great things for the game and I look forward to doing that with this team … I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to bring a championship here to Houston. (It’s an) opportunity to be able to do great things, have some fun and I’m excited for it.”