[ESPN] Now Starring: James Harden

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by senter, Nov 28, 2012.

  1. senter

    senter Member

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    Great read from ESPN on Harden. Check it

    The ascent took time. Before the league honors and co-starring roles next to Kate Upton, before the mounds and mounds of free throws and, yes, even before that wonderful facial hair, there was baby fat to be shed, a lazy streak to lose, a tentativeness to curb.

    The talent was there; that discovery came before the ability to dunk. But James Harden's rise from an asthmatic high school unknown to off-the-bench wunderkind on one of the biggest forces in American sports was a process. Each step of the way, an adjustment period was needed.

    But his transformation from a future superstar budding behind the wattage of his already fully established teammates in Oklahoma City to the anointed superstar running his own show in Houston took no time at all. In fact, it came down to less than an hour.

    Months of negotiations toward a contract extension culminated in one final offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder, which, according to a Yahoo! Sports report, Harden was given an hour to consider. Terms, of course, still could not be reached. So at around 10 p.m. CT on Oct. 27, while Oklahomans were fixated on their Sooners' gridiron clash with Notre Dame, word spread through the Interwebs that the Thunder had dealt Harden to the Houston Rockets.

    Two decades spent fixated on always making the right play came down to a single decision, and Harden, renowned for his ability to create for himself as he does others, chose isolation. Or, depending how you look at it, the Thunder chose it for him.

    Still, it's a path that at some point became predetermined. The superb efficiency, the way he commanded a second team like it was his own, the dynamic yet effortless way he racked up gobs of points, the groundswell of support for his untamed avatar -- the silhouette of the NBA's next elite wing already existed.

    Now it is official: Harden is the driving force of the Houston Rockets. He is The Man, much in the same way the Carmelos and LeBrons were at earlier stages of their careers. Jeremy Lin remains the focal point of the Rockets' media presence, but that is at least partly a result of the swiftness with which the deal developed and the trade's proximity to each team's season opener. Houston GM Daryl Morey has often called Harden a piece to build around, not with, and the Rockets' success, now and in the future, is reliant on Harden's offensive production.

    All of it is now Harden's reality, even if he's had only a month to process it. His past role in the NBA, he says, still feels all too close. The trip to get there, although years in the making, feels too brief.

    "Short," he said.

    Following a morning shootaround, Harden shoots his way around the 3-point arc of the East-most basket at Staples Center before parking himself in one of the leather baseline seats. While Lin occupies a small, mostly New York-based crowd of reporters, the 2-guard -- flu-stricken from the fluctuation in climates during the Rockets' West Coast trip -- watches as his knees are wrapped in ice and readies himself for a familiar line of questioning, sweat dribbling from the shaved sides of his head into a beard that has begun to resemble a Christmastime arts-and-craft project.

    This is just how I was introduced to Harden almost eight months earlier: Packing probing questions, I sat down with the Sixth Man of the Year shoo-in after a Thunder shootaround at Santa Monica High School, about 20 minutes west of Staples Center. With Kevin Durant and Derek Fisher -- who was readying for his return game after a recent trade out of town -- occupying the pre-pregame huddle of journalists, we sat on the sidelines of the aging court and I set off in an attempt to find out who he saw himself being in this league.

    Harden's words were as efficient as his game. His answers were precise and respectful, with little time spent on unnecessary embellishing. Outerwear is where the flash ends. But while he talked up his All-Star teammates and his willingness to sacrifice for them, to build something special in Oklahoma City with them, his accounts have always nimbly avoided any notion that he can't be or doesn't want to be a go-to player, as if phrases that might trigger controversy have been wiped from his vocabulary.

    There is no outright public declaration that he wants to be this, wants to be that. But there is a noticeable confidence in his ability to be successful doing whatever it is, and that he would like to be recognized for it.

    "I'm used to it," Harden said in that first conversation about flying under the radar most of his career. "I'm used to it now. So I take it and run with it. Just keep improving and show people that I can really play."

    Two weeks ago, I asked if he remembered our original chat, and he said he did. I asked how long ago that felt, and he said short.

    Thrown off -- given all that had happened since, the chat seemed ages ago to me -- I (rather foolishly) asked what amounted to the same question.

    "No," he said. "Feels short."

    Straight and to the point.

    The proceeding line of questioning ended similarly to the previous one, right down to the clichés. Harden appeared guarded, and justifiably so; I am, after all, some dude with a recorder attempting to seek insight from a 23-year-old with the sniffles after practice.

    After we finished, a national television reporter armed with a camera crew sauntered over and asked for a moment of Harden's time.

    "This gonna be on ESPN?" he asked with a tinge of hope. They answered affirmatively and he used the front end of his shirt to clear the sweat droplets parachuting from his brow.

    He was now ready for the star treatment.

    Harden's debut as a leading man reaffirmed everything that was hinted at in smaller doses.

    Days removed from being sent south from Oklahoma City and with a new five-year, $80 million contract in hand, Harden deftly Euro-stepped past defenders on his way to the hoop and smoothly dished off passes off pick-and-rolls in a win against the listless Pistons. His final line resembled his previous efficient outputs in OKC, only juiced by 44 minutes and 25 shots: 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 turnovers.

    He would only outdo himself the next night, putting up 45 points on 19 shots in a win over the Hawks. But teams caught on quickly. With the Rockets still struggling to adapt to a playbook that had been reshuffled upon his arrival, Harden would score 20 points or fewer in five of Houston's next nine games.

    "This league watches film," interim Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson said recently. "They'll figure out what you're doing, where you get your shots. In pick-and-rolls, he's seeing a lot more traps now. He's got a man-and-a-half in his area at times now whereas the first two games he just played one-on-one. But he's doing a better job at moving the ball, too. And that's the next step. When someone adjusts to you, you have to adjust back."

    Harden's minutes have soared into the league's top five, one spot below Durant, and he admits he is feeling it physically. As a result, virtually all of his offensive averages have risen, including an eight-plus-point leap in scoring, also good for a top-five slot. The shooting percentages are not as glossy as they once were, but his player efficiency rating, which once foretold his current success, is almost exactly the same: 21.13 then, 21.89 now.

    "He's always been aggressive, now he's being a little more aggressive now that he's the go-to guy," said Daequan Cook, who along with Cole Aldrich was traded to Houston along with Harden. "[He's] doing the right things with the ball, making the right plays. Just being more of a leader out there on the court, knowing there's a lot more on his shoulders."

    Harden has been a go-to player before, both in high school and at college in Arizona State. But even when his ability clearly dictated that he operate the offense, in both scenarios he was initially hesitant to fully embrace becoming a dominant force. His natural disposition was to sacrifice, which made for an easy fit with ball-hungry running mates like Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    The green light is now on at all times for him and he has adapted quickly, as evidenced by a seven-plus uptick in his nightly shot attempts. This is the NBA dream for most up-and-coming players. Or at least it used to be.

    "My dream was to be in the NBA," Harden said. "I wasn't really focused on being a star player on a team. I just wanted to make it to the NBA. I've been blessed for the opportunities to be in the Finals, been in the playoffs ever since I've been in the NBA. This is a new role, a new step, so it's something I'm looking forward to."

    Part of this is simply personality; Harden has to this point let his play or his loud outfits serve as his public persona while any desire for the spotlight remains generally suppressed. But it also a clear representation of how players must now view success.

    Largely because of national AAU trips in their childhood, elite-level players want to play together. But now, with several teams skyrocketing into contention based on free-agent decisions, it is also a necessity. So even though he will finally satisfy any what-ifs he may have had about becoming The Man, Harden also seems to recognize that he will need to reestablish what he just left behind to do so.

    With Lin and the emerging Chandler Parsons, Harden will surely bypass the 20-win seasons the Thunder endured while stocking up on high draft picks. Upcoming cap space will help, too. But after being days away from embarking on another run at a championship, Harden is starting fresh with another group of talented twentysomethings.

    There is new chemistry to be built, new images to cultivate, new accomplishments to strive to. Only this time, Harden will be the principal player looked to for guidance, for leadership.

    "Not just Jeremy. The whole team, the whole organization," he said. "Them doing what I'm coming from and what I like to do, and me knowing them -- it's going to take some time. But I think our chemistry off the court and on the court is building. We hang out pretty often, so … time will tell."

    Once again, Harden embarks on another process.

    "I love it [in Houston]," Harden said, "It happened the way it happened. Just can't look back, you can only look forward … to things I want to do and things I need to do to be successful."

    http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8685920/nba-james-harden-now-starring-houston-rockets
     
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  2. BigMaloe

    BigMaloe Contributing Member

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    Excellent read...
     
  3. jimmyv281

    jimmyv281 Member

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    We will have James Harden's best years as a pro unlike the decling Charles Barkley, Tracy Mcgrady, and fall of Yao Ming.
     
  4. cuddie

    cuddie Member

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    "Them doing what I'm coming from and what I like to do, and me knowing them" - James Harden
     
  5. JJHardLin

    JJHardLin Member

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    Excellent read. When can we expect the Daequan Cook interview to be released?
     
  6. alethios

    alethios Member

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    I find more to like about this guy every day. He's a breath of fresh air as opposed to the star mentality that gets exuded by other star (or incredibly talented but self-entitled) players who get caught up in the limelight and special treatment.
     
  7. teebone21

    teebone21 Member

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    Hope his game improves soon. He has been ice cold these last few games. That weak euro step has got to go also
     
  8. J Sizzle

    J Sizzle Member

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    Dude just turned 23 years old in August....I still can't believe that.

    He's truly going to be dominant in years to come. His game is not perfect right now, but that's a good thing. He's one of the league's best players (clearly), and he still has so much more that he can improve on (FG%, turnovers, etc.).

    So happy to have him. I was vehemently against going after Dwight because of his injury history, his unwillingness to play in Houston, and his unwillingness to sign an extension with the Rockets. Now we have a true star player, who's younger, who really likes what we have here. That's really just the perfect scenario.

    And really though....is Asik playing THAT much worse than Dwight? Absolutely not. He's filling the center void beautifully.
     
  9. J Sizzle

    J Sizzle Member

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    Please....

    His euro step is lethal. Does it work every time? No, but that move has gotten him to the line countless times this season. Saying it "has got to go" is just short sighted because of the Thunder game.

    Dude is 23 years old....he's going to improve so much more.
     
  10. alethios

    alethios Member

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    I thought he shot pretty well in the Knicks & Raptors games.
     
  11. teebone21

    teebone21 Member

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    knicks game was all freethrows actually if i remember
     
  12. teebone21

    teebone21 Member

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    maybe you dont have CSN like it do but that weak move is why he is almost toping the team in turnovers. Its predictable and it seems that he doesnt have any other ways of getting to the rim on a fast break. Players have been stripping the ball away from him at a high rate also. Thats part of the reason why he has been struggling. Its either a 3pointer or euro layup , those shots are 90% of his game. Short sighted my ass lol. these turnovers have been happeneing all season
     
  13. rolyat93

    rolyat93 Contributing Member

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    Counting down.. 2 years until he's the best SG in the game. Maybe less.
     
  14. HeWhoIsLunchbox

    HeWhoIsLunchbox Contributing Member

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    You don't remember. 17 points from the field, 16 points from the FT line.

    And in reference to your previous post, his eurostep is one of the best in the league. It's gotten him easy looks at the basket (he's been missing more than he should) and is a big reason why he's one of the league leaders in FTs attempted.
     
  15. J Sizzle

    J Sizzle Member

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    I do have CSN. I watch every game.

    And while I agree with you that he uses the euro step to a fault at times, to say it needs to go is incredibly misguided. It's his best move, and it has lead to much success for him.

    He needs another move obviously, and he will get it. But to say he needs to get rid of his go to move is just not wise. He definitely needs to tone it down and maybe settle for some short jumpers or floaters, but it's not like his euro step is failing epically every time.

    Dude is 23...he'll get better, get more moves, cut down turnovers, etc.
     

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