Houston (CBS HOUSTON) — James Harden hasn’t been in the limelight much since the Rockets’ season ended last month.
But with free agency upcoming and the NBA Draft tonight, not to mention Dwight Howard’s recent opt-out, Houston and Harden are about to be a focal point of the basketball world.
Near the top of Harden’s priority list? Convincing his former Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant to team up again.
“I mean, I’m going to try [to recruit Durant],” Harden acknowledged while speaking to the media Thursday at his youth Basketball ProCamp. “He’s one of my really, really good friends. I’m going to try and talk to him. He has a big decision. Obviously, I would love for him to play here in Houston, but ultimately he’ll make the best decision for his career.”
The former Thunder guard also addressed Howard declining the $23.3 million player option on the final year of his contract, meaning the three-year Rockets big man will hit the open market. Harden was non-committal, saying he hadn’t been in contact with Howard.
“He’s his own man, he knows what’s best for his own career,” Harden said. “I haven’t really talked to him, but he’ll make whatever decision he wants.”
Free agency kicks up on July 1, and Harden said he wants to take a more active role in the team’s front-office decisions.
That might already be in the works, as the star guard said he will join the team’s management to help out with draft evaluation. Despite the Rockets only having a pair of second-round picks, Harden said the team needs to be sharp across the board.
“I’ll definitely be tuned in, and I’ll join our front office tonight to be part of the process” Harden said. “This summer is very important for us to build our team and get back to our winning ways. We need all the pieces we can get.”
That emphasis on the Rockets also explains some of his offseason decisions to date. Harden said he’s focused on being a leader for the franchise this summer, in an effort to prove his superstar bonafides.
His decision to skip the Olympic Games with Team USA was mainly about keeping his body fresh and putting Houston first during a critical offseason.
“Playing 38 minutes a game, it’s a lot of wear and tear,” Harden said. “Just mentally, being able to focus and get into as best shape as possible will get me prepared for this long season.”
Howard’s choice left Houston with massive cap space to spend, and of course, Durant is the behemoth on the market. The Rockets should have approximately $46 million to spend in free agency, meaning they will be looking at upgrades from the superstar level to valuable reserves, especially at center.
And with new coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden said the emphasis will be on finding players who can work off of Harden’s high-usage game.
“It all comes with getting more playmakers, getting guys who can create and work well with us,” Harden said. “July 1st is going to be very interesting and we’re all excited.”
As for D’Antoni, Harden was very upbeat about the well-travelled coach and his uptempo offensive style. Harden labelled D’Antoni “very smart and very brilliant” and said communication will be crucial.
“I think communication between myself and the head coach is very important,” Harden said. “If we do that, it will be all good.
“It’s an exciting time for everyone around the organization.”
WATCH: Harden pulls a nifty move and throws down a dunk at his youth basketball camp.