Former Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale was highly critical of superstar James Harden during a recent appearance on NBA-TV, claiming Harden doesn’t have the skills or personality to be a leader of a franchise.
“James is not a leader,” McHale said on NBA-TV. “He tried being a leader last year, tried doing that stuff. I think Chris Paul is going to help him just kind of get back into just being able to hoop and play and stuff like that.”
McHale cited Harden’s lackluster effort on defense as the main reason why he believes Harden isn’t suited to be in a leadership role.
“On every team you have to have a voice,” McHale added. “On every team you have to have somebody that when they say something, people listen. Like if James tells you you got to play better D, are you listening to him? You got to be kidding me. I lived through it believe me. Every time he mentioned defense everybody would put their head down and be like you got to be kidding me.”
McHale compiled a record of 193-130 as Houston’s coach, but his relationship with the team didn’t end on good terms.
He was fired 11 games into the 2015-16 season after the Rockets got off to a putrid start and reports at the time mentioned Harden played a part in McHale’s departure.
Harden spoke with reporters Saturday for the first time since McHale’s comments and the 2017 MVP runner-up didn’t hold back when he was asked to address the subject.
“He’s a clown, honestly,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle. “I did anything and everything he asked me to do. I tried to lead this team since I stepped foot here in Houston. To go out there and downplay my name, honestly, he’s never taught me anything to be a leader.
“But I’ve done a great job. The organization, my coaches, you can ask any of those guys how I worked extremely hard every single day to get better as a basketball player and a leader as well, defensively as well.
“To downplay my name like that, it shows his character. I usually don’t go back and forth on social media with anybody or with interviews. But it’s time to stand up for myself. You just don’t go and do that. It shows what type of person he is.
“When you’re here and you’re face-to-face and you’re telling me one thing, how great of a player you (are), how lucky he is to be a part of this process, then go back a few years later and basically say the opposite, it shows your character. It shows who you really are. I’m not that type of person. I don’t operate that way. I don’t say something (about) somebody behind their back or tell them one thing and go ahead and go and say the other thing.”
When current Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who thanks to Harden won Coach of the Year in 2017, was asked about Harden’s leadership traits, he said Harden has been unbelievably great in that aspect.
“All I can do is talk from my experience, and he’s been unbelievably great,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously, I got Coach of the Year last year because of him and the other 10 guys on the team. He’s been great with everything. I asked a lot of him last year. I asked him to be the point guard, I asked him to talk on D, I asked a lot of things and he responded great. We had great chemistry.”