Championship. Championship. Championship.
The goal of winning a title is what every team hopes to accomplish, but only few can achieve. And with the NBA season less than a month away, several teams around The Association have their eyes set on winning the grand prize in June.
Although the Larry O’Brien Trophy is in reach for several, no team may be more hungry to win than the Houston Rockets. After enduring another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs, the Rockets’ quest for a title began on Friday with media day in Houston.
For a team that features two of the last three MVP winners in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the Rockets heading into the new season. With an exhibition match set for Monday, Houston will have to wait a few more days before they can let their game do the talking and ease the minds of their doubters.
Mike D’Antoni’s future in Houston:
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Rockets this season is the future of Mike D’Antoni. Since his arrival in 2016, D’Antoni has coached the Rockets to one of their most successful stretches in franchise history, but his future with the team remains up in the air following contract disputes with management over the summer.
Despite the growing concern, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says he does not see D’Antoni going anywhere in the near future. Fertitta said:
“Everybody tells me that Mike is the right guy for this team, and Mike appears to me to be the right guy for this team. I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the great offensive minds out there. I truly do not see Mike going anywhere.”
The disappointment of not receiving a new contract could wind up being a distraction to some, but D’Antoni remains focused on coaching the team for the upcoming season. He said:
“I know a lot of things have been said, and it was a hot topic for discussion, but it’s over. Now I have to coach this team and that’s all I am focused on. When summer returns, we will see what happens, but I could not ask for a better team to coach this coming season.”
Defense is a top priority this season:
With the ultimate goal to win a title, it seems as if the Rockets have gained a new perspective on the importance of defense. Following a season where they possessed the seventh-best defensive team in 2018, Houston’s defense took a dramatic fall to the bottom half of the league in 2019.
Hoping to improve on the issues of last season, Austin Rivers is taking on the responsibilities to become a top perimeter defenders in 2020.
“I wanna be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league this year, and that’s a challenge I made to myself. I told James and Russ (Westbrook) whenever I’m on the floor, they’re not going to be guarding the best player because they already have too much of a load.”
Austin Rivers on the keys to winning a championship. pic.twitter.com/cEzx4AiaIW— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) September 27, 2019
Rivers is not the only guard with a new perspective on defense, as Eric Gordon has also vowed to be a top defender for the Rockets heading into the new year.
“I’m looking forward to guarding the best perimeter player. We have to continue being aggressive, and if we start playing good defense early, we will be a much better team.”
Brodie and The Beard are ready to create havoc:
Of all the changes that were made this offseason, the Rockets’ move to acquire Russell Westbrook has been the most publicized and the most scrutinized.
Since the trade, many have questioned how Westbrook and James Harden will coexist together, and their on-court fit was a hot topic to discuss at media day. Despite the concerns, Westbrook is optimistic on how he can play alongside Harden. He said:
“I don’t have to have the ball to impact the game. I don’t have to score, I don’t have to do anything. I can defend, I can rebound, I can pass, I can lead. Our main goal is to win. I can go be scoreless, and if we win, that’s the best thing that ever happened. That’s all I cared about, and that’s all I ever cared about.”
“The bigger picture in the NBA is the championships, MVPs and all that nonsense but for me, it’s about brotherhood.”— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 27, 2019
— Russell Westbrook on his friendship with James Harden pic.twitter.com/4AwsFS6TMB
While holding his end of the bargain, Harden says he does not have a problem taking a step back to play alongside Westbrook — especially on nights when the former MVP has it going. Harden said:
“If Russ got it going and Russ is having one of those games that we’ve all seen before, guess what I’m going to do, sit back and watch the show, and vice versa. It’s just a part of basketball. So you can’t sit up here and say, ‘Oh, Russ is going to have the ball for the first half and I’m going to have the ball the second half.’ No, things happen through the course of the game that you just flow with and go with.”
Following media day, the Houston Rockets are set to open their preseason schedule on Monday, Sept. 30 against the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association at Toyota Center in Houston. Tip-off is slated for 7:00 PM.
Check back at TDS for more on 2019 media day over the weekend.