It only took three words for James Harden to rip apart former Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, who questioned the MVP runner-up’s leadership during a live NBA TV show on Saturday.
"He's a clown," Harden said, according to The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen. "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, obviously, be a better basketball player, but to be a leader as well, defensively as well."
James Harden on Kevin McHale saying he is no leader. "He's a clown."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 7, 2017
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Current Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni rebutted McHale’s comments, saying Harden’s “been unbelievably great.”
"All I can do is talk from my experience, and he's been unbelievably great," D'Antoni said. "Obviously, I got (NBA) 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. 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.
"He's the first one to get them all together in the summertime or take them out during the year to keep the team together. So, I didn't see it. He's been great for me."
How did we get here?
The Rockets pulled off one of several blockbuster trades of the summer, sending a package of Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and five other players to the Clippers for perennial All-Star Chris Paul, putting two of the NBA’s best five floor generals at D’Antoni’s disposal.
But McHale offered a backhanded criticism of Houston’s deal, praising the trade because Harden “is not a leader” and Paul is.
"James can see all the passes and do everything, but James is not a leader," McHale said. "He tried being a leader last year, tried doing all 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.”
"But on every team, you have to have a voice. On every team, you have to have somebody that when they say something, people listen. Like if James tells you, 'You've got to play better D,' are you going to listen to him? Like you've gotta be kidding me. I lived through it. Believe me, everybody in the locker room did this," McHale said, putting his head down with his hand on his forehead. "Every time he mentioned defense, everybody would put their head down."
The Rockets fired McHale 11 games into the 2015-16 season with GM Daryl Morey offering that “the team was not responding” to him as coach.
Houston hired D’Antoni the following summer and he went on to win NBA Coach of the Year, leading Houston to a West third-best 55-27 record. He also moved Harden to the point guard position full-time and implemented his famed “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive system that allowed the dynamic scorer to become one of only a handful of players in NBA history to average at least 29 points and 11 assists in a single season.
When asked by The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen if he thinks McHale could be bitter over the way things ended with the Rockets, Harden responded “sure,” while denying any responsibility for his ex-coach’s firing.
“I’m just here to do my job and compete at the highest level that I can,” he said. "But 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 say the other thing."