James Harden may need more rest next season, Mike D'Antoni says

HOUSTON -- Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said he will rethink whether James Harden needs more rest during the regular season after the All-Star's poor performance at the end of Houston's Western Conference semifinals series.

D'Antoni, describing himself as "shell-shocked" the day after Houston's season ended with a 39-point home loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6, acknowledged after Friday's exit interviews that fatigue could have factored into Harden's poor finish.

Harden was held to 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting and committed 6 turnovers in the 114-75 loss Thursday night. He had 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and 6 turnovers in the second half and overtime of a 110-107 loss in Game 5, going scoreless with three turnovers in the overtime period.

Asked how Harden could improve after a historic statistical season for the 55-win Rockets, D'Antoni answered, "Understanding his limitations."

Harden nearly averaged a triple-double during the regular season, posting 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game. He missed only one game, due to illness, and ranked third in the league in minutes with 2,947.

"All great players think they can do everything," D'Antoni said. "Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there. 'Hey, you're nicked up a little bit, don't play, maybe.' Something to talk about, but that's also his greatness, too. So it's hard. It's very delicate.

"And again, I feel so sorry for him because he's had an unbelievable [season]. I mean, he's had a historic year, and you can't just say, 'OK, one game ...' and all of the sudden, social media goes crazy. ... But he will get better. We will talk about it. I can help him. The offense will get better. I can get him off the ball some. I can save his legs a little bit and have more confidence [in other ball handlers]. Pat Beverley can run the team a little bit. We can do different things."

Harden, who took responsibility for the Rockets' Game 6 loss during his postgame news conference, did not participate in Friday's exit interviews with D'Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey. They had a brief discussion with Harden after the game, and they described the MVP candidate as devastated.

Morey said they would "give him some space" and schedule a meeting with Harden soon to discuss the offseason and the franchise's future.

Morey said it was not fair to judge Harden based on a bad night in Game 6.

"Obviously, you see [he] had a tough game. But to me it's a joke to get on him, because we're not where we are [without Harden]," Morey said. "The guy that's hardest on James is James."

Morey mentioned that the Rockets place as much responsibility on Harden -- the first player in NBA history to record at least 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a season -- as any player in the league.

One offseason goal for Morey and D'Antoni is to figure out ways to ease the burden on Harden, who turns 28 in August.

Morey and D'Antoni both expressed excitement about the Rockets' core and optimism that young players Clint Capela, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make significant strides. However, Morey acknowledged the challenge of competing for a championship as a one-superstar team, saying he'd explore avenues to acquiring a co-star to pair with Harden.

"Our goal is a championship," Morey said. "Generally, that has taken multiple superstars, but before any team does anything, they say it can't be done. We do have some guys. I think Capela, for example, I'm not trying to say that he's going to be for sure an All-Star ... but he's got a chance. You look at his progression and where he's at, he's got a chance to be for sure near an All-Star, if not better."

D'Antoni, who just finished his first season in Houston, said Harden can make significant progress after his first campaign as a full-time point guard.

D'Antoni said he expects the Rockets to have the best offense in NBA history next season, saying they can "add layers" to the system to help Harden.

"He's had a historic season, and we can get that better," D'Antoni said. "Obviously, we'll sit down. Save his energy, play him less, manage it better. ... We'll work that together. One game can't erase nine months of work."

Added Morey: "James makes progress every year. That's one of the things I love about him, whether it be improving his right hand or his leadership like he did this year. Every year, he dedicates himself to improving himself. I know that he'll do that again. That's why he's our cornerstone."