Last summer, Harden, the do-everything shooting guard, severely sprained his ankle, causing him to not be in the best of shape when training camp started. Harden did not disclose how he injured his ankle.
"It messed me up," Harden said after the Rockets' season ended in a five-game series loss to the Golden State Warriors. "Just to start the season off I couldn't work out like I wanted to and so I went into training camp with a bummed ankle, had to get healthy and had to kind of get in shape. It was just all of the above. It kind of messed me up -- it kind of set me back a little bit so I couldn't take care of my body and have a really good summer."
Harden shot a dismal 22.2 percent from the field and 9.4 percent from 3-point range in the first three games of the season, when he averaged only 18 points.
As the season progressed, Harden's game and health improved, and he finished the season averaging 29.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds. The damage, however, was done as the Rockets struggled to find on-court chemistry between Harden and new point guard Ty Lawson.
Harden was supposed to play more off the ball, giving it to a more traditional point guard.
Lawson struggled badly with his shot, playing off the ball and developing chemistry with the Rockets' big men. Houston's post players like lob passes near the rim. In Denver, Lawson developed a rhythm with throwing passes at different spots to the Nuggets' more athletic big men.
After head coach Kevin McHale was fired, 11 games into the season, interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff moved Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup as the starting point guard.
Beverley fit better with Harden because he doesn't possess the need to control the ball. Beverley also finished the season shooting a career-high 40 percent from 3-point range. The Rockets reached a buyout settlement with Lawson, who finished the season with the Indiana Pacers.
But if Harden had gotten off to a much better start, maybe things would have fared better for McHale, who was fired after only 11 games. Houston started the season 0-3, losing those games by an average of 20 points.
"He sprained his ankle pretty badly this summer," McHale said in October. "He just hasn't played a lot of basketball, just a lot of other stuff to stay in shape. Basketball is basketball and you got to play it to get your feel back and everything.”
This isn't to say Harden was the reason the Rockets finished 41-41 and entered the postseason as the No. 8 in the West. Harden is expected to be in much better shape after playing for the U.S. Olympic team this summer. Last summer, he barely played hoops outside of an appearance at the Drew Summer League in Los Angeles, because of the ankle injury.
This summer he'll get in better shape and for the Rockets' sake, a much better result in 2016-17.