Russell Westbrook was all smiles on Friday at the Rockets official press conference welcoming the former MVP to the team. With all the questions about how they will play together looming both inside and outside the Toyota Center media room, Westbrook admitted their biggest challenge will be figuring out how he and his friend since childhood, James Harden, will play together. "I'm not worried and I hope the team isn't either," he said.
The gathering, while perhaps a bit larger than your average presser, was certainly not the full-on circus atmosphere that happened when Chris Paul was signed. In this case, it was just GM Daryl Morey, Westbrook, his family and members of the media (as well as his new friend and teammate, Harden). But there was no underplaying the excitement. There was even a round of claps from the normally stoic media when things wrapped up.
Morey, who didn't want to compare landing big name players of the past while praising Paul for his time here, admitted this is the first time they ever signed another MVP. But, Westbrook brings something else as well. "He plays with a will to win and passion that's hard to find in this league," Morey said. "He's relentless."
That intensity has made him so difficult to guard, but it also inspired sports hate among fans, particularly in Houston. Now that he has joined the Rockets, he was asked what he wanted people who have only seen him as opponent to know. "I'm a nice guy," he said. "I am a good person so you guys know."
Fans will quickly forget the animosity if the team wins, particularly early in the season, something they weren't able to do last season before improving markedly as the season progressed. Westbrook has all the skills to make the team better. He pointed particularly to rebounding and passing as well as the defensive side of the ball, where he can help improve the team. "I can play off the ball," he said. "I don't have to touch the ball to impact the game."
He added, "Maybe I can throw a couple lobs to James if he's still got it." Harden, who was sitting in the front row, laughed.
In fact, Westbrook and Morey both admitted Harden was integral in efforts to bring Westbrook to Houston. "James is persistent when he wants something done," Westbrook said. The fact that they have known each other since they were 10 and have played together in Oklahoma City bodes well.
As for what he thinks of his new home town, "It's hot as hell, I'll tell you that," Westbrook said with a laugh. Morey added, "For free agents out there, it's 75 degrees all season here."
Once the fun and games of the offseason are in the rearview mirror, the real work begins and Westbrook says he is ready to go. Everyone with the team knows the challenge that lies ahead with so many all-star duos now spread around the Western Conference. Westbrook, for his part, wasn't interested in them. "I only care about one team and that's the Houston Rockets."