How the first talk between Mike D'Antoni and James Harden changed everything

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers

In the summer of 2016, James Harden was coming off his most disappointing season as a pro, following a five-game first-round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

The Houston Rockets had lost coach Kevin McHale, Dwight Howard was a free agent (for better or worse), and the 2015 trip to the Western Conference finals seemed like ancient history.

Meanwhile, the man on the other end of the telephone call has been through similar potholes in his career.

Mike D'Antoni, once thought of as an offensive genius and one of the most innovative minds in the NBA, had been through a couple rough patches himself.

The architect of the famed "Seven Seconds or Less" offense for Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni was more known recently for failed high-profile tenures with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. Those attempts paid him well but definitely tarnished his legacy.

D'Antoni coached four seasons in New York, going to the playoffs once and losing in the first round. He then coached two seasons for the Lakers, again making the playoffs once but again losing in the first round.

When D'Antoni was hired in Houston in the summer of 2016, he found a player in Harden who also needed some career rehabilitation.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers

In Harden's essay that was released Monday on The Players Tribune, The Beard detailed that first conversation:

"After Coach took the job, we immediately got on the phone — talking about what went wrong last season, talking about our roster, talking about changes we could make. Normal intro-type stuff. It was clear he was smart as hell about basketball, but laid back, too. He was asking questions and listening, instead of acting like he already knew everything. I liked his vibe right away.

And then before we hung up, he stopped and just said straight up: “Honestly, we need you to be the point guard.”

And there it was.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers

After all the chit-chat and friendly team-building ideas, it all came back to one idea: That Harden would be the team's point guard.

The idea came with some push back from Harden, who said he wasn't a big fan of the Seven Seconds or Less style.

D'Antoni assured him they weren't pouring over tape just to emulate the Phoenix system, but instead to drive home a point about sacrifice.

And now, the Rockets are preparing for a second-round battle against the San Antonio Spurs, and Harden could very well be the MVP.

It's clear the message was heard, loud and clear.

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