James Harden, Rockets take look in the mirror, seek to change vibe

HOUSTON -- James Harden turned reflective over the summer. The Houston Rockets shooting guard -- their best player -- needed to change.

Sometimes change can be good for a player, maybe even for a basketball team. At Friday's Rockets media day, the buzzword was "vibe."

The indication was that the vibe from last season was bad. Harden, Trevor Ariza and even Rockets owner Leslie Alexander touched on "vibe."

Houston finished 41-41 and qualified for the postseason as the eighth seed in the West. Harden's group was knocked out of the opening round by the Golden State Warriors. Then the offseason hit.

Dwight Howard, gone.

Josh Smith, gone.

Jason Terry, gone.

This isn't to say those three had anything to do with last season's drama, but Harden knew he was staying and wanted to make sure 2015-16 didn't repeat itself.

"Last year was frustration. Numbers, individually, was pretty solid," Harden said. "The love and excitement wasn't there. I had to look in the mirror over the summer and I had to change and I had to get back to how I was and my focus level to the things I could control. I have to be a lot better, and once I got myself together I could help others, and that's one of the things I focused on this summer."

Last summer, Harden sprained his ankle, delaying his proper conditioning, and he entered camp overweight. This summer, Harden said he's "perfect" after working on his body. He reports no physical problems.

Next on the list was getting the team together. Harden scheduled two offseason workouts, one in Las Vegas during the NBA summer league season and another in Miami two weeks before the start of camp, which gets underway Saturday.

Ariza said everybody bought into it, with the majority of players and rookies in attendance.

"I thought it shows James wants to win very badly," Alexander said. "He's a winning player. The knock on him from the national press is very wrong, and he's one of the top three or four players we've ever had here. He wants to win as much as [Hakeem] Olajuwon and [Clyde] Drexler and everybody else."

Drexler left the Portland Trail Blazers in 1995 to win a title with Olajuwon and the Rockets. This offseason, general manager Daryl Morey signed free agents Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to improve outside shooting and increase the Rockets' profile as a title contender. Nene was signed to help the defense and become a mentor to new starting center Clint Capela.

Will the moves and new coach Mike D'Antoni push the Rockets back to the elite of the West?

"Championship," Harden said of the goal. "Realistic, I think we have more than enough in that locker room to win."

Harden said he will be more vocal this season and demand that his teammates do the same. One issue several Rockets had with Howard was that he kept quiet. He wanted the ball more, but instead of going to his teammates he went to Morey.

Howard should have approached Harden. He didn't and tried to play through it instead.

This season, Harden said nobody will accept silence.

"We can't read minds," he said.

Anderson believes the Rockets are an underrated team. Of his star guard, he noted: "He takes ownership and leadership on his shoulders."

Harden will be the Rockets' primary ball handler. But Anderson said he's seeing more open looks with this Rockets team during pickup games than he did playing five seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Could everything be this easy? Is it really the change in vibe and Harden taking on more of a leadership role?

"For sure, it was frustrating last year for me," Harden said. "I've got to be better and I will be better. That's where we are and like I said, I looked at the mirror and figured out I have to be better as a basketball player and a person, then it will be easier for me to lead."