HOUSTON -- James Harden finished second in the MVP voting, first in minutes played, second in points per game, first in total points scored, first in free throws made and attempted, first in win shares, fourth in player efficiency and second in offensive win shares last season.
According to the Houston Rockets he can do more, if you believe that.
Harden is one of the leaders of this team entering a season with little buzz about any title chances.
Maybe that’s how the Rockets want it, yet Harden’s offseason, much like his 2014-15 season, was noisy.
Today he begins a 13-year, $200 million Adidas contract that gives him his own signature shoe, something he didn’t have with his six years wearing Nikes. Harden’s life, from whom he dates, to more people recognizing him for his long beard, has gotten him more attention than ever before.
TMZ found Harden coming out of a club one night and asked him questions about his shoe deal. He’s been photographed with girlfriend, Khloe Kardashian, and while he’s never talked about dating the reality TV star, his life morphed into something bigger.
During a rare moment of reflection, Harden spent the offseason just thinking about how his summer went.
“A couple of moments, I’m sitting in the house [saying] this is different no matter what you see in the media or pictures there is so much craziness going on,” he said. “But I sit back and I’m like, ‘Yo, you’re the same. You’re the same young guy with no facial hair, no Mohawk, lefty, who was just working, don’t get overwhelmed, be humbled about it, smile and just enjoy it for what it is and be happy.’ Just remember how I got to this point and that was the work and if I keep that mindset no matter what goes on, I’ll be all right.”
And while things off the court are going well, the Rockets need to see more from him on it.
The Rockets want him to play off the ball more often with the addition of point guard Ty Lawson. Rockets coach Kevin McHale would like Harden to get his shots off more catch-and-shoot opportunities, work on his rebounding and do more with less.
Harden is also being asked to work on his defense, something that was a problem in the past, but wasn’t at times last season, less standing around on offense and becoming more of a leader.
Harden gathered his teammates together prior to the start of training camp for a minicamp in Los Angles two weeks ago. Several players noted it was needed so the team could bond and get to know each other again. Harden’s leadership continues to even non-basketball issues.
He plans to have a sit-down with Lawson, a good friend, who was released from a 30-day stint in an alcohol rehab facility.
Adding Lawson should also push Harden to seek the ball on other areas of the floor which should give defenses fits in terms of trying to guard him.
“I’m just happy to see him grow as a player,” Dwight Howard said. “From his OKC days with the little beard to the now we have the beard and it’s really The Beard now. He’s just enjoying life and playing great basketball, just excited and happy for him personally. It’s not easy. Just to see his growth as a player and a leader has been great.”
Harden’s intensity hasn’t wavered after all the attention he’s garnered in the offseason. After Wednesday’s practice, Harden was in an intense shooting game with Patrick Beverley. The trash talk flowed as each man took corner 3-pointers.
What Harden does on the floor isn’t a surprise to his veteran teammates. For a rookie like power forward Montrezl Harrell, just seeing it in person is impressive.
“Be ready, be ready,” Harrell said. “He can create at so many different levels on the floor you got to be ready that’s what I’ve learned being around here and practicing.”
It’s amazing the Rockets are asking more from their best player. In some ways it’s the smart play because taking some of the ballhandling responsibilities from Harden gives him opportunities to do bigger things.
“I think there’s a way to be more efficient for him with less energy exerted and allowing Ty to do more stuff,” McHale said. “One of the best things James does is catch-and-shoot. We just got to challenge our group.”
The challenge for Harden is to remain humble, something that’s never been a problem for him. Plenty of attention goes to Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, some of the current superstars in the game.
Harden gets his share of pub, thanks to his play on the floor and now what he’s doing off it. Harden said he’s thinking long-term about business investments, becoming not only a role model for family members but others who watch whatever he does.
“It comes with the package,” Harden said. “I just take it for what it is and try not to get to overwhelmed by it. Stay humble, pray about it and continue to be me, that’s all I can be. Just know what got me here that’s the work that’s being genuine, a nice loving guy and continue to live.”