Last season was a disaster for the Houston Rockets. For an average team, going .500 and losing to the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs wouldn't be such a horrible thing, but these Rockets were supposed to be championship contenders. They'd been to the Western Conference finals the previous season, and their superstar, James Harden, was coming off a season in which his peers thought he should have won Most Valuable Player. Nobody expected Houston to fire coach Kevin McHale 11 games into the season and struggle so much when it came to defensive intensity.
Now, with Dwight Howard gone and Mike D'Antoni in the picture, it's time for the Rockets to turn the page. They had their media day on Friday, and, of course, everybody said that this season would be different. Take a look at these quotes from Harden and forward Trevor Ariza, via the Associated Press' Kristie Rieken:
"Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn't there," he said. "So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was."
To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.
"I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn't figure it out together," Ariza said. "I don't even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year."
So how have things changed now?
"The vibe has just been totally different," Ariza said. "Everybody is excited to show what they've worked on and excited just to be around each other."
A few thoughts:
- Harden will be one of the more interesting players to watch in the whole league. His offensive ability is nearly unmatched, but he can be so harmful defensively that it's tricky to evaluate him. As Houston's leader, he has to take a large portion of the responsibility for what happened last year. His comment about love and excitement rings true to anyone who watched those Rockets play -- they were a downer, and it was confusing to see such a talented group play so poorly.
- The hope here is that D'Antoni can be a part of changing things. He's not the first person that comes to mind when you think of how to fix an inept defense, but his teams have almost always been fun. He'll give Harden the most offensive freedom he's ever had, and free-agent acquisition Ryan Anderson will fit perfectly in his system. If Houston simply plays hard for D'Antoni, then it will be a step in the right direction.
- It's just media day. While it's great that Harden said he had to be different and Ariza said everybody's excited again what happens if the Rockets have a slow start? What about if they start fine and then suffer a couple of injuries? Two seasons ago, Houston handled adversity remarkably well; last year, not so much. No one knows how this team will respond when it is tested.