A confident leader is one of the main keys to building a title winner, regardless of sport. A player that not only makes his teammates better, but one that has the fortitude to really, truly believe in himself against anyone, regardless of match up.
A lot of players can talk that confidence. But it's a smaller group that backs up that talk with the play on the court to prove it.
James Harden is certainly one who can talk it and walk it, and he had no shortage of that confidence in a fantastic interview with NBA.com's Fran Blinebury.
Harden told Blinebury, "I am the best player in the league. I believe that. I thought I was last year too."
Harden did show deferential respect to the man who was voted MVP by saying, "Credit Golden State for an unbelievable year... I'm not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me."
But he also recognized the breadth of his accomplishments and isn't afraid to put them out there defiantly on full display.
"But that award means 'valuable to your team.' We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we would do at the beginning of the year, even when everyone was healthy. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.
"There's so many factors. I led the league in total points scored. Minutes played."
But like any good leader, Harden also realizes there is always room for improvement and always areas you can look to better your game in the off season.
Referencing the Rockets' game 5 defeat at the hands of Golden State in which he committed a playoff record 12 turnovers, Harden told Blinebury, "To be honest, I thought I had more in the tank when I went out on the court that night. But it was a long, tiring, beat-down season. Playing the most minutes in the league, dealing with so many injuries every, single day. It's a wear-and-tear. It's a grind.
"It was so frustrating, because in Game 5, I turned the ball over 12 times. I pride myself on creating opportunities to score for my team. So those 12 possessions, instead of getting shots for myself or one of my teammates, I'm giving an extremely talented Golden State offensive team extra possessions, and you just can't do that in the playoffs."
"So that's what this offseason has been about-- better conditioning and better preparation for this time."
The Rockets' best player continues his development as a team leader by setting the expectations and the culture with both his words and his work. And an offseason of positive reports and good vibes will hopefully translate into regular and post season success. This is the most optimism behind a Rockets squad since the Olajuwon/Drexler/Barkley days, and not only isn't that fact lost on Harden, but he also seems to embrace the expectations.
"You don't think I can do more? Just wait, I'll show you."
If Harden really has yet to show us his best, the upcoming Rockets season truly can be a special one.