Rockets add All-Star Paul as they look to take next step
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
They'll find out how they stack up against the NBA champions early when they open the season on the road against the Warriors on Tuesday night.
"We're looking forward to trying to get as close as we can or better than Golden State," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They seem to be the ones that set the bar and we know it's a high bar but we have a lot of potential and now it's up to us to try and do the work and get it done."
When the Rockets orchestrated the blockbuster deal with the Clippers in June to acquire Paul, a nine-time All-Star, the obvious question was how he and Harden would coexist. Harden was Houston's point guard last season.
D'Antoni knows there will be bumps along the way as they adjust to each other, but loves having two players of their caliber running his faced-paced offense.
"Normally my offenses have been one kind of Hall of Fame point guard," he said. "And now we've got two that will be on the court the whole time and I'm real excited about that."
He's not worried about it not working out and said that in his experience if players want something to work out it normally does.
"If you give them freedom and you have certain philosophies that you want them to do they'll figure out what's comfortable for them," he said. "And putting them into spots where both of them can succeed and adjusting a little bit to me that's the process."
Paul isn't worried either, not after what he's seen from D'Antoni and Harden since arriving in Houston.
"One of the best things about this transition has been the communication aspect of it," he said. "We talk about just about everything so it doesn't get to a point where it's out of control ... I think as long as we do that everything will be fine.
Harden finished second in the NBA in scoring last year with 29.1 points a game and also was the runner-up in MVP voting to Russell Westbrook in a season where the Rockets were eliminated by the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals. He knows his numbers could drop playing with another scorer like Paul but also believes his presence improves the team overall.
"He's one of the best we've ever seen at facilitating," Harden said. "And his attention to detail while he's playing is something I haven't seen or something I haven't played with ... he can make me better."
Paul, who has been criticized for failing to get the Clippers out of the second round of the playoffs in his time there, is very clear about his motivation for joining this team. Chasing a title is all that matters to him at this point in his career.
"It means everything," he said. "If I was fine with anything else I probably would have just stayed where I was."
Some things to know about the Rockets as they prepare for the season:
CAPELA'S NEXT STEP
Center Clint Capela had a career-high 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds last season in his first year as a starter after Dwight Howard left. But he averaged just under 24 minutes a game as he worked on his strength and conditioning. The Rockets hope the fourth-year player can give them about 30 minutes a night as he continues to develop.
"His next step is that," D'Antoni said. "I think he will. It's a matter of getting older, stronger, getting into a man's body."
Though Houston lost defensive specialist Patrick Beverley in the trade for Paul, D'Antoni believes the defense will be better this season thanks to the addition of Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. The Rockets had one of the league's most potent offenses last season, but their defense wasn't nearly as good.
"We need to be in the top five defensively," D'Antoni said. "If Golden State's No. 1 offensively and No. 1 or 2 defensively, duh - we've got to be up there or otherwise we're not going to win."
The Rockets have a new owner after billionaire casino and restaurant owner Tilman Fertitta bought the team from Leslie Alexander this offseason. Fertitta paid a NBA-record $2.2 billion to buy the team after losing out to Alexander when he bought it in 1993. The businessman, who owns the Golden Nugget casino and is the star of a reality show called "Billion Dollar Buyer" on CNBC, promised he wouldn't be as out front and hands on as Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban, but he'll certainly be more visible than the 74-year-old Alexander was.
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Updated October 11, 2017