Trade to Rockets left James Harden 'stunned' and 'at a loss for words'
By Ben Golliver
James Harden's "Welcome to Houston" media tour continued throughout Sunday, and after getting out in front of the biggest question -- whether he will sign with the Rockets long term -- he did double back to admit that he was caught by surprise when the Oklahoma City Thunder abruptly traded him late Saturday night.
"I was actually at dinner with my family," Harden told CSNHouston's Kelli Johnson. "Enjoying dinner, nice and quiet. I got a text from my general manager, Sam Presti. I called him. He told me that he loved me and that things didn't work out and that I was going to be coming to Houston. I was kind of stunned, but as I thought about it, it could be a good thing for me."
The next morning, Harden was on his way to Houston, jumping through the necessary hoops that go with being moved.
"A whirlwind," he said. "Having to pack my things, get as much as possible, having physicals, getting to meet the team and the front office here, it's been great. It's kind of a loss for words."
The talks regarding his contract didn't move meaningfully over the course of the day. Sunday morning, Harden said his agent and the Rockets would get to work on an extension, and he expected to sign the deal before Wednesday's deadline. He repeated that message Sunday night.
"We all built great relationships with the Thunder -- the front office and the players. We had something special," Harden told CSNHouston. "At the end of the day, it's a business. I'm looking forward to being in Houston with my new team and front office. ... The numbers issue, I'll let my agent and the front office work that out. My job is to play basketball and I'm going to just try as hard as possible to bring wins to this city."
The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year praised his new backcourt partner, Jeremy Lin, for his ability to both score and distribute, saying that the pair will combine to "make the game a lot easier" for their teammates.
Harden, 23, said he realizes he will take on added leadership responsibilities as the Rockets' No. 1 scoring option, despite his youth.
"It's strange, but it's reality," he said of being labeled the "veteran" on his new team. "I've had a lot of experience, being around that organization [the Thunder]. Kevin [Durant] and Russell [Westbrook], they put the hard work in. I have to bring my leadership on and off the court to Houston."
His biggest concern? Meshing with an entirely new team with less than 72 hours before Houston takes the court for its regular-season opener against the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday night. "It's going to be tough," Harden admitted. "Not only myself, [but also fellow new Rockets players] Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich. We're all very fast learners. We're going to learn the players very quick. [But] it's just our chemistry. Our team has to build chemistry. It would have been nice to have a training camp and play a couple of games together, but we're going to have to pick it up as games and practices go on."