ATLANTA — Don’t expect any Kevin Durant versus Russell Westbrook fireworks Saturday night when the Houston Rockets take on former teammate Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks.
Before the Rockets practice on Friday team leader James Harden was succinct when addressing his relationship with Howard.
“Yeah, we’re cool,” Harden said.
Howard’s run in Houston got off to a promising start with a trip to the Western Conference finals. It ended with a crash and burn as the team sputtered through last season. The Rockets were easily dispatched by the Golden State Warriors, which led to the team and Howard parting ways.
There were several reports last year about a rift between Harden and Howard, which allegedly splintered the locker room. Harden disagreed when asked about the rumors.
“It didn’t bother me. I know what the truth is,” Harden said. “It’s no beef. We never got into a heated argument. It just didn’t work out.”
Clint Capela is a young center and fondly remembers his time being mentored by Howard.
“He was fun to work with in practice,” Capela said. “He always made me work hard. It built my confidence and made me a better player. He was a good teammate.”
Capela also expects that there will be pleasantries and tough competition from both sides.
“Dwight will be ready, we’ll all shake hands before and after the game, but I know I got to be ready, he’s a very good player,” Capela said.”
Mike D’Antoni is in his first season as Rockets coach but was the coach during Howard’s tumultuous season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
D’Antoni acknowledged that his system doesn’t work well with a back to the basket center. But he said he still would’ve taken him if it worked out.
“He’s a great defender and rebounds well — there isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use that,” D’Antoni said.
Harden still hasn’t figured out how the once-promising pairing ended so badly.
“Trust me, if we knew, it would have worked out,” Harden said.
The relationship came to end, but the Rockets don’t have time to lament and are excited about the new possibilities.
“Vibe means we have different players and make them feel as comfortable as possible. That’s what I meant by different vibe,” Harden said.
“That’s one of the reasons why we had training camp twice in the summer so they can get comfortable quick and then when we came to training camp at the beginning of the season, guys will be playing a lot better. That’s the reason for that.”
We’ll see how well it plays out Saturday night in Atlanta.