“In our workout that we had here, we were scheduled to go to dinner at like 7 o'clock,” Presti said. “And he stayed in the gym shooting afterward until like 8 o'clock. And we were all waiting around to go. But it was an indication of not just his work ethic, but I think he really wanted to improve and he really wanted to be a part of what we were doing. And that made an impression on us.”
Harden also wanted to win.
It's the reason why he's never complained about his role despite knowing full well that he's talented enough to start on 27 of the league's other 29 teams.
“This team is definitely something special, especially with all the talent that was already here,” Harden said. “Scotty (Brooks) did a great job of making me become that sixth man and helping me figure my role out.”
Harden said he didn't fully understand how valuable he was in a reserve role until mid-season last year. That's when the team traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins.
“Since that trade deadline happened and my role became bigger on this team,” Harden said, “I had to make sure every single game I was focused on doing my role at its best.”
Brooks quickly countered by saying Harden was being hard on himself.
“He did get it as a rookie,” Brooks said. “The year before, we won 23 games. The year we drafted him, we won 50 games and he played big minutes. A lot of times he played big fourth-quarter minutes. And he averaged 10 points a game as a rookie.”
But the moment when Brooks knew without a doubt that Harden realized his role came over a lunch meeting last summer. Brooks knew it was going to be an important summer for Harden's development and the team's.
“I just asked him what are your goals going into the summer thinking that he would tell me ‘I want to start,'” Brooks remembered. “All he said was, ‘Coach, I want to do whatever it takes for the team to get better.' And right then and there I knew that he had bought in to the job that we needed him to do.”
But how long can the Thunder afford to keep its emerging star out of the starting lineup?
“If we're winning championships, I have no problem,” Harden said. “That's all that matters — championships.”