Rockets' Harden after adding Westbrook: If we don't win, I'll take all the blame
While Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant faced the media in Brooklyn on Friday, a different tandem – James Harden and Russell Westbrook – detailed how they will attack the 2019-20 season with the Houston Rockets.
Houston acquired Westbrook this offseason in a trade with the Thunder, sending Chris Paul and two first-round picks to Oklahoma City while agreeing to swap two additional first-round picks.
The deal doubled-down the expectations placed on the Rockets to reach the NBA Finals, especially now that their perennial roadblock – the Golden State Warriors – will enter the year without Durant and Klay Thompson (torn ACL).
"If we don't win, I'll take all the blame for it," Harden told reporters at Rockets media day on Friday.
"That's just what the territory comes with. That's why you have to go out there and win. That's why we work extremely hard in the offseason to bring players in and whatever is necessary to give us the best chance to win. I know what's at stake."
Houston were bounced out of the playoffs last season by Golden State in the conference semifinals. The year prior, the Warriors spoiled Harden's MVP season by beating the Rockets in seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
The frustration that came with always looking up at Golden State led to Daryl Morey's move to trade for Westbrook, another former MVP who appeared to be plateauing in OKC even after the addition of Paul George.
Now with the reunion of Harden and Westbrook, who played alongside one another in the 2012 Finals with the Thunder, the two have to figure out how to co-exist once again.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni said there will be things to figure out once the season starts and added one or the other of the playmakers will be on the court at all times as he attempts to stagger their minutes.
"It's going to be scary," Westbrook said of a lineup that features both him and Harden. "That's all I can tell you. It's going to be scary. Not for us."
Harden is accustomed to carrying the burden for a team throughout the season as he led the NBA in usage percentage in 2018-19 by a large margin. However, he is not looking to Westbrook for help. Instead, he wants to unleash Westbrook by giving him the type of playing partner he has not had since Durant left OKC in 2016.
"I know from him having an entire organisation for 11 years that he had to play for and now he can come to an entire different chapter in his life to just go out there and play without having to stress and worry about the pressure of carrying an entire organisation," Harden said.
But, of course, everyone understands there will be games where either Harden or Westbrook takes over.
"If Russ got it going and has 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," Harden said.
Westbrook added: "We have a friendship first outside of basketball. I think we communicate and understand each other. In the game, it's going to be easy. There will be times when I'm upset or he's upset, but we're going to sit there and let him know what he's doing right and vice-versa. I think that's the best way to complement each other."