New Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson raised a few eyebrows at the team’s Media Day. When asked whether it was hard learning how to play off James Harden, Anderson had an interesting response.
“It’s easy…You don’t realize how much he (Harden) wants to distribute the ball when you watch him play or play against him…He finds me. He looks for me on the court…I’ve had more wide open looks in our pick-up games here than I’ve had in the past four years probably. So, it’s been a very easy transition so far playing with James.”
In the aforementioned “past four years,” Anderson was a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, so naturally, his former teammates took his comments as a shot towards them. He also echoed a similar sentiment during his introductory press conference while also pointing out the difference in established roles from his previous location.
Word of Anderson’s recent remarks eventually reached the Bayou and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry sarcastically took the high road, per NOLA.com’s John Reid.
“Great. That’s good. That’s terrific. We’re happy for him.” Gentry said.
You can’t fault the 28-year-old for being excited over his new whereabouts. He will go from being a key reserve/spot starter in New Orleans to occupying the starting power forward spot in a Houston offense tailored to his strengths. He’s also leaving a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010-11 for a club that made the postseason in each of the last four seasons.
He’ll make roughly $20 million annually for the next four years after accruing $40 million combined in the first eight years of his career, too.
Still, while Ryno probably meant no harm, there are plenty of reasons to believe this could be the start of an exciting rivalry between two members of the Southwest Division.
In addition to reeling in Anderson, the Rockets raided the Pelicans’ roster again this offseason by signing shooting guard Eric Gordon. Gordon’s five-year tenure in the Big Easy had more downs than ups. He was acquired in the December 2011 Chris Paul trade but played only nine games due to injuries.
He hit the market as a restricted free agent later that summer and signed a max offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns. At the time, he expressed a desire to play in the desert, while his “Phoenix is where my heart is right now” quote rubbed some the wrong way.
New Orleans matched Phoenix’s offer, but injuries and questions over whether he wanted to be in New Orleans surrounded his four-year stint. The team famously brought in Tyreke Evans in 2013 as both a complement and potential replacement for the oft-injured Gordon, while the former Clipper was constantly the subject of trade rumors.
With two of New Orleans’ three best players jumping ship to Houston, all eyes will be on both when they battle their former team. It is an opportunity for Anderson to prove he can thrive outside of Anthony Davis’ shadow, and for Gordon to finally live up to the hype after an underwhelming start to his career.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans will look to make the two turncoats pay for skipping town, and potentially make Anderson eat his words in the process.
Student vs. Teacher
New Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and current Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry have a history together. Gentry was an assistant under D’Antoni in Phoenix from 2004 to 2008. When D’Antoni left the Suns in 2008, Gentry eventually took over as head coach (after a brief cameo by Terry Porter) and implemented the “Seven Seconds or Less” system that D’Antoni made famous.
Gentry took that philosophy with him to Golden State when he served as Steve Kerr’s “offensive coordinator” during the 2014-15 season. When the Warriors won it all that year utilizing those same small-ball principles, Gentry made it a point to pay homage to his mentor.
Victorious Gentry: "Tell Mike D'Antoni he's vindicated! We just kicked everyone's ass playing the way everybody complained about!"
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 17, 2015
Alvin Gentry tells me: "This is vindication for Mike D'Antoni." pic.twitter.com/Vqrhg9RB6w
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 17, 2015
This season, the Rockets-Pelicans showdowns will have a Mr. Miyagi vs. Daniel-san feel to them (even though MDA is only four years older than Gentry). It will be a battle of “Seven Seconds or Less” disciples with the student squaring off against the teacher. Given the defensive struggles with both franchises (Houston finished 20th in defensive efficiency, while New Orleans ranked 28th), each game will likely be exciting, fast-paced shootouts for small-ball bragging rights.
Stars On The Road To Redemption
While there are plenty of storylines going into the Houston-New Orleans clashes, these contests will come down to a battle of franchise players looking to climb back up the NBA ladder.
Anthony Davis vs. James Harden. Brow vs. Beard. Defense vs. Offense.
Both are arguably the best at their respective positions and potential MVP candidates, but unfortunate circumstances have caused them to fall out of the limelight.
Davis hit the ground running as a 19-year-old rookie in 2012, and his first four years in the league put him on pace with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal as a seven-foot prodigy.
He holds a career average of 20.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He’s led the league in blocks per game twice while finishing fifth in MVP voting in 2014. He’s also been in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player during his short stint in the pros.
Sadly, Davis’ inability to stay healthy and the Pelicans’ lack of success during his tenure have dimmed his career. He’s never played more than 68 games in a single season and is still searching for his first playoff victory. Even at just 23 years old, he faces an uphill battle in elevating the Pels to championship contender status.
After arriving in Houston via a trade from Oklahoma City in 2012, Harden immediately burst onto the scene as one of the game’s most dynamic scorers. He’s averaged 27 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 boards per game in four seasons with the Rockets. He finished second in MVP voting two years ago, and still managed a vote for the award last season despite the team’s dysfunctional campaign.
Unfortunately, Harden’s electric offense is routinely offset by his lack of effort on defense. His troubling attempts at getting stops have made him a frequent target of criticism on social media. He also came under fire last season for his lack of chemistry with Dwight Howard and problems inside the Rockets locker room.
Both will be looking to climb the NBA ladder and re-establish themselves as top-five talents. However, given the competitiveness in the West and depth of talent in the NBA, one may need to go through the other to get where they want to go.
Two years ago, the Rockets and Pelicans were two young teams on different ends of the NBA spectrum. Houston rode the Harden/Howard tandem to a No. 2 seed in the West and a trip to the conference finals. New Orleans backed into the playoffs and was swiftly eliminated by the Warriors.
Last season, both teams were knocked down a few levels on the NBA totem pole. New Orleans was decimated by injuries and finished 30-52, 12th-best in the West. The Rockets snuck into the playoffs at 41-41 but were humiliated by the Warriors in round one.
This season, the two franchises are on the road to redemption, and the battle for respectability should lead to exciting duels between two emerging franchises.