Mike D’Antoni: Houston ‘One of the Favorites in the West, if Not the Favorite’

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoniis amped for what he believes will be a “great year” in Houston, with his team as “one of the favorites in the West, if not the favorite.”

D’Antoni says James Harden and new superstar teammate Russell Westbrook will “make it work” in H-Town.

Chris Paul is “going to be sorely missed,” according to D’Antoni, who adds that he can’t wait to work alongside the force of nature that is Westbrook.

Per The Houston Chronicle:

“That’s what great players do,” D’Antoni said. “Great players figure it out. They make it work.

“I go back to USA Basketball,” said D’Antoni, an assistant on the 2012 Olympic team that included Westbrook and Harden. “You have all those guys, and all of them have the ball in their hands. When you want to make it work, they all did. You’ve got the best team in the world with all that talent — nobody stepped on anybody’s toes. It was great. It’ll be the same thing.

“You only get problems when the chemistry is not right or they don’t want to be there. I’m excited about it, and I think the pairing will work.”

D’Antoni also cited Westbrook’s strength as an explosive ballhandler. Harden led the NBA and Westbrook was third in drives per game, but Westbrook led the league by far in assists off drives.

“I think he’ll have a lot more room to get to the rim,” D’Antoni said of Westbrook. “He’s going to find a way to be devastating. He always has. That’s the way great players are. It makes my job a lot easier. We’ll try to maximize their potential and get the most out of everybody on the floor. He’s going to help with the rebounding and playing with such athleticism. That’s probably something we missed: the athleticism. He’ll bring that dynamic. He’ll bring a force to the table.”

Related Rockets Owner: Russell Westbrook and James Harden ‘Wanted to Play Together’

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Dwight Howard Thanks Kobe Bryant for Calling Him ‘Soft’

Dwight Howard has come to grudgingly appreciate being called “soft” by former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant during an-court skirmish.

The big fella initially hated Bryant for the remark, which went viral, but says they “were on two different levels mentally.”

Howard, 33, adds that he was “ignorant” to the level of maturity The Black Mamba expected of him.

Per Complex (via FS1‘s “Fair Game with Kristine Leahy”):

“I just think we were on two different levels mentally,” Howard said. “He hadn’t never seen a person like me. Someone who could enjoy basketball but at the same time not be so [serious]. That’s not me.”

Howard’s jovial personality didn’t fit with Kobe’s laser-focused mentality, which led to Dwight being traded from the Lakers after just one season.

“I kinda hated him for saying that because I looked at it the wrong way,” Howard said when he recounted Kobe’s comment. “I think he was more so talking about my mentality…not how I am on the court. And I didn’t realize that because all the noise surrounding him saying I was soft. And I hated him. I hated him for that moment.”

Yet, now that he’s removed from the situation, Dwight says that he understands why Kobe was so rigid.

“Everybody reaches different levels of maturity at different times,” Howard told Leahy. “I think at that time I was ignorant to the level that he was at. So I appreciate you, Kobe. Thank you for saying I was soft. I didn’t realize what you meant until now.”

Related Kobe Bryant Says Dwight Howard Couldn’t Handle His ‘Combative Nature’

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Spencer Dinwiddie Says Kyrie Irving Discussed Joining Nets in December

Kyrie Irving broached the idea of relocating to Brooklyn last December, according to Nets teammate Spencer Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie played a role in helping recruit Irving to BK as an unrestricted free agent this summer, and says Kyrie foreshadowed that “New York could be fun” this season.

The Nets plan to hand the keys of the offense their new All-Star point guard.

Per Nets Daily (via The Athletic):

“The first time he reached out was maybe like December in terms of just loosely talking about it,” [Dinwiddie] told [Shams] Charania. “He was obviously still super focused on his season and everything. But you could tell from his conversation that it was on his mind and obviously free agency was coming up and that’s kinda what it was. Just asking a friend about his current situation what he thought.”

Then, says Dinwiddie, Irving went deeper, telling him “New York might be fun next year,” repeating the line for emphasis, “New York might be fun next year.”

Asked when things changed from Knicks to Nets for the six-time All-Star, Dinwiddie seemed to say that the Nets, because of his childhood as a Jason Kidd fan, held much more sway than believed.

“Kyrie very much identifies as a New Jersey kid,” he told Charania. “This is not something fabricated for the purpose of the story. He was saying things like, ‘I’m really from New Jersey.’ With all these comments, [I thought] we got a shot. This isn’t like the Knicks or nothing.”

Related Bobby Portis: Players Knew Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving Were Going to Brooklyn

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