To no one’s surprise, Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni is confident that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will figure out how to thrive together as teammates.
It seems like only a short time ago when the Rockets made the big trade for Chris Paul, creating one of the most dynamic back courts in the league. Everyone questioned how James Harden and Paul, two players who make their biggest impact on the game with the ball in their hands, could share the floor together.
They quickly figured out, as the duo led Houston to a franchise-record 65 wins in their first season together. Houston was arguably the second best team in the west in both years of the short-lived Chris Paul era. While there were a few bumps in the road, none of Harden and Paul’s disagreements negatively impacted the team on the court and Houston made the most of the roster they had.
Now, the Rockets have dealt the aging Paul for a younger, more athletic and an even higher usage point guard and many of the same questions still remain. Can Harden and Russell Westbrook co-exist? Did Westbrook practically run Kevin Durant and Paul George out of OKC with his play style? Will he step on Harden’s toes in Houston?
Mike D’Antoni, whose job is to make this pairing work, doesn’t seem too worried about how Harden and Westbrook will fit together. D’Antoni drew from his experience from being an assistant coach on the 2012 USA Basketball team, telling the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen that great players always figure it out when they want to play together.
“That’s what great players do. Great players figure it out. They make it work. I go back to USA Basketball. You have all those guys, and all of them have the ball in their hands. When you want to make it work, they all did. You’ve got the best team in the world with all that talent — nobody stepped on anybody’s toes. It was great. It’ll be the same thing.”
We have to remember that Harden and Westbrook, like Harden and Paul before, have chosen to play together. The Thunder worked with Westbrook to find a desirable destination and Harden played a large role in recruiting Russ to Houston. If Harden felt repulsed by the thought of Westbrook coming to Houston, the Rockets would’ve never entertained the idea of completing such a deal. Doing so against the wishes of the franchise cornerstone would likely end in disaster.
Next year, we’ll probably see the Rockets push the pace a lot more to take advantage of Westbrook’s talents in transition. His ability to grab the ball off the glass and sprint to the other side of the floor in a split second will create a lot of easy opportunities that Houston didn’t have before.
The main thing to remember is that Westbrook and Harden have spent a lot of time together in the back court from their OKC days. Back then, even Westbrook and Harden played second and third fiddle to Kevin Durant.
Their games have obviously evolved since, but they should be able to rekindle their chemistry relatively quickly. Their previous history together and a desire to make the pairing work will determine the success of the franchise next season.