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Rockets narrow their focus in face of China controversy

Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, Rockets

Prior to this week, the Houston Rockets were expecting to be greeted back from their trip to Japan with questions related to training camp and preseason. While there was still plenty of basketball questions hurled their way, mixed in were inquiries about Houston’s latest controversy involving general manager Daryl Morey and China.

It’s been a week, but the attention still hasn’t quite subsided. However, the Rockets insist it isn’t affecting team morale.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Mike D’Antoni said on Sunday. “We just got to keep playing and be good ambassadors for the game. That’s all the players can do. We’ll let the NBA and the Houston Rockets sort things out.”

The Rockets seemed to be expecting these questions, but they kept emphasizing their on-court play without being dismissive to the sensitive matter. Nonetheless, it’s hard to completely avoid the matter when the team has been bombarded with questions about China’s backlash and the NBA’s response to it for the past week.

“It is a distraction,” D’Antoni admitted. “But guys can handle it. We still got good (on-court) work in. Everything’s fine. It happens.”

Most felt the need to address the controversy head-on, but James Harden — already scrutinized for apologizing on behalf of the Rockets — chose to stray away from it completely. And with Houston so close to tipping off in late October, it’s hard to hold it against him.

“I’m staying out of it,” Harden said. “I’m focusing on what we have and trying to get better. We’re a week and a half away from the regular season.”

Harden recognizes that, as the face of the Rockets franchise for the past seven seasons, he will be asked tough questions about the organization, especially in a time like this. He doesn’t shy away from it, but he maintains that the team has to drown out all the outside noise and stay focused on the season ahead.

“I remember last year, we didn’t get off to a great start. We had to climb out of that hole. So this year, we’re trying to avoid that and trying to get off to a better start,” Harden added. “When you’re playing at a high level and doing great things, you’re kind of pushed into that (leadership) role. So, take it for what it is. It comes with the package.”

While Harden and the Rockets brass have done a pretty good job dancing around the subject, it doesn’t mean that the noise doesn’t bleed into the locker room.

“It’s a tough situation,” admitted Danuel House. “It’s tough to be talking about it. It’s tough to be in it. It’s tough to look at it from the outside in. It’s just a tough thing that’s going on. Adam Silver will deal with everything and make sure that both sides are equally happy. We’ve just been trying to focus on each other.”

Houston has been delicate in the way they broach the subject and understandably so. However, when asked, veteran forward P.J. Tucker said he doesn’t believe it should hamper the Rockets moving forward.

“This time of the season everybody’s getting in shape, getting ready for the season, focusing in,” said Tucker. “There are things that go on in life. This is still our job.”

China’s relationship with the Rockets will undoubtedly be an ongoing story in the background this season. Houston has a lot of vested interest in repairing some of their long established business relationships in the country, and players like James Harden have endorsements that could be affected by the incident.

It’ll be interesting to watch all of this play out, but for now, the Rockets are for the most part, unbothered.

“It’s regrettable that it happened, but as I said, our work will get done,” ended D’Antoni.