Rockets-Hawks Preview


James Harden paid immediate dividends for the Houston Rockets.

The new-look Atlanta Hawks hope their offseason moves will give them the financial flexibility to move in a more successful direction.

Harden will look to build on an impressive team debut Friday night when the host Hawks kick off their 2012-13 season.

Just four days after being acquired from Oklahoma City in a surprising deal that sent Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-rounder to the defending Western Conference champions, Harden poured in 37 points and added a career-best 12 assists in Wednesday's 105-96 victory at Detroit.

"That was an awesome performance," said point guard Jeremy Lin, who began his second stint with the Rockets with 12 points, eight assists and four steals. "We just let him go to work and played off of him and it was really nice."

So was the five-year, $80 million contract extension Harden signed earlier in the day.

"I think I just wanted to get out there and play," Harden said after fellow newcomer Carlos Delfino hit four fourth-quarter 3-pointers to help Houston rally from an 11-point deficit. "All the talking and all the craziness that has been happening this last week - I just wanted to go out there and play basketball."

Danny Ferry, the Hawks' new president of basketball operations and general manager, understands the challenge his team faces with Harden now the focal point of the Rockets' offense.

"James is one of the really good young shooting guards in the NBA. He'll really make them a better team," Ferry told the Hawks' official website. "It was a trade based off the new CBA and how teams have to make some more financial decisions going forward. Certainly Oklahoma City did that in this situation."

The Hawks still have a major decision to make regarding Josh Smith, who enters the final year of his deal after averaging career highs of 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds last season when Atlanta finished 40-26. Ferry, though, has already shown he's not afraid to pull the trigger on a big deal.

Trying to lead the organization in a new direction - the Hawks have failed to advance to the Eastern Conference finals despite making the playoffs each of the last five seasons - Ferry traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in separate deals this summer.

The Hawks acquired Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams, and a second-round pick from Brooklyn for Johnson, who has four years and $90 million left on his contract.

Atlanta sent Williams and the two years left on his deal to Utah for point guard Devin Harris, whose contract expires after this season.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge because we're semi-rebuilding," said Smith, one of five returning Hawks. "You hate to see those guys leave. But we're going to be playing with different teammates now, so we've got to try to make things work."

The Hawks will employ a new up-tempo approach, but their guard-heavy roster which includes Jeff Teague as well as newcomers Kyle Korver, Lou Williams - second to Harden in last season's Sixth Man of the Year voting - and rookie John Jenkins could present problems on the defensive end.

"When you look at us on paper, everybody says we're a team that has some good players, can make shots, will be able to get up and down the floor, will be able to score," said coach Larry Drew, whose team was sixth in scoring defense last season at 93.2 points per game. "But will we be able to defend? That will be the big question."

The Hawks have two-time All-Star center Al Horford back after he missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Smith gives Atlanta one of the top shot blockers in the NBA - he's averaging 2.2 since entering the league in 2004-05 - but the undersized Hawks will need solid minutes in the post from Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale has to feel good about his team's frontcourt after newcomer Omer Asik and second-year center Greg Smith combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds in the opener.