‘Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to hap­pen in Hous­ton,’ star says af­ter suc­cess­ful start to sum­mer

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jonathan Feigen jonathan.feigen@chron.com twit­ter.com/jonathan_feigen

James Har­den con­sid­ered the re­cruit­ing pitch he had so of­ten used on his peers, the ar­gu­ment that had con­vinced Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker to join him with the Rock­ets and that he had heard him­self shar­ing many times be­fore.

No one, he soon re­al­ized, was more con­vinced than he was.

It helped that he had been of­fered a con­tract ex­ten­sion that would add to the two years left on his con­tract to pay him $228 mil­lion over six sea­sons, the rich­est con­tract in NBA his­tory. But Har­den knew he was get­ting more in the deal.

“It’s rare that you feel so wel­come, that you feel like you’re at home and feel like ev­ery sin­gle day you wake up to go to work and have peo­ple around you to mo­ti­vate you, that push you to be bet­ter, that you love to be around,” Har­den said. “That’s an­other rea­son I signed the ex­ten­sion.

“I don’t want to go any­where. I don’t want to deal with free agency. I know where home is. I know where I want to be. I know where I want to re­tire ul­ti­mately. And I know where I want to win a cham­pi­onship. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to hap­pen in Hous­ton.”

Har­den spoke of the way he had been en­trusted to help build the team around him, a part­ner­ship Rock­ets gen­eral man­ager Daryl Morey de­scribed as “the mod­ern way” to em­power a fran­chise star and im­prove a ros­ter. The re­la­tion­ship, how­ever, had grown deeper than a way to in­flu­ence free agents to join him.

He cited not just Morey or Rock­ets owner Les­lie Alexan­der, but he de­scribed Rock­ets pres­i­dent Tad Brown as “kind of a fa­ther.”

“He helps me get through ev­ery sin­gle day with strug­gles that I have,” Har­den said. “Any ques­tions about any­thing, he’s there for me.

“It’s more than I ever could have ever imag­ined — the city, the fans, my team­mates, these guys right here — Mr. Alexan­der, Tad, Daryl, even Rafael (Stone, the Rock­ets’ gen­eral coun­sel) in the back. There’s con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I talk to these peo­ple more than my mom, more than my fam­ily and friends. It’s a fam­ily. I’m not ex­ag­ger­at­ing.

“I think it’s def­i­nitely unique. I know how spe­cial it is to feel wel­come, to feel loved.” Re­tooled back­court

Much of that com­mu­ni­ca­tion has been about how to re­tool the Rock­ets this sea­son with the ad­di­tion of Paul to share the ball and the back­court. Har­den led the charge for Paul, con­vinc­ing him to make the move to Hous­ton be­fore the team could even ne­go­ti­ate.

“The re­la­tion­ship we have here in terms of him push­ing me to make the team bet­ter and his abil­ity to re­cruit all these play­ers … is the mod­ern way I think teams are go­ing to be built,” Morey said. “To get a cor­ner­stone player like James and have him bring ev­ery­body to the party in Hous­ton. We think next year is go­ing to be the best team we’ve had, and it’s all thanks to this guy.”

There will be ad­just­ments to be made, but Har­den said the changes should not be about hav­ing to share the ball, but fi­nally get­ting to.

“The last 13 years, he’s had to dom­i­nate the ball so much be­cause he didn’t have some­body to help cre­ate plays for him,” Har­den said. “I know how I felt the last five years the same way, hav­ing to dom­i­nate the ball. It feels good to get a catch-and­shoot op­por­tu­nity or to just run the floor and not have to worry about hav­ing to make a play ev­ery pos­ses­sion.

“It’s go­ing to be fun. There’s no point guard, no shoot­ing guard. We just go out there and make plays and make our team bet­ter.” Money se­condary to ti­tle

Paul has never been be­yond the play­offs’ sec­ond round. Har­den’s sec­ond round last sea­son ended with a 39-point de­mo­li­tion at home to the San An­to­nio Spurs, a de­feat marked most by Har­den’s col­lapse.

“That mo­ti­vates me,” Har­den said. “Of course, it didn’t end when we wanted it to end, how I wanted it to end. That’s what life’s about. You’re go­ing to get tested. Things aren’t go­ing to hap­pen the way you would like them. You have to sit back and see how you can get bet­ter.”

The Rock­ets lost no faith in the face of their fran­chise, re­ward­ing him with a con­tract big­ger than any­one had re­ceived, nearly three times what Alexan­der paid for the team nearly 24 years ear­lier.

“The only thing at this point in my ca­reer is win­ning,” Har­den said. “Money is cool. It doesn’t mean any­thing with­out hold­ing that cham­pi­onship (tro­phy) up. I won’t stop un­til I get it.”

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

The Rock­ets have en­trusted James Har­den to help build the team around him. “We think next year is go­ing to be the best team we’ve had, and it’s all thanks to this guy,” GM Daryl Morey said.

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