Earlier this week, former Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale made some inflammatory remarks about James Harden’s leadership abilities.
"James can see all the passes and do everything, but James is not a leader," McHale said in an appearance on NBATV. "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."
"On every team, you have to have a voice,” McHale continued. “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? I lived through it. Believe me, everybody in the locker room did this [put their head down with their hand on their forehead].' Every time he mentioned defense, everybody would put their head down.”
After catching wind of the remarks, Harden fired back strongly against his former coach.
"He's a clown, honestly," Harden told reporters after practice on Saturday. "I did anything and everything he asked me to do. I've tried to lead this team every day since I stepped foot here in Houston. To go on air and just downplay my name, when honestly he's never taught me anything to be a leader.”
The MVP runner-up continued, “But I've done a great job. The organization, my coaches, you can ask any of those guys how I've worked extremely hard every single day to better [myself], obviously as a basketball player, but be a leader as well. To go on air and downplay my name like that, it just shows his character. I usually don't go back and forth on social media with anybody or with interviews, but I'm going to stand up for myself, and there it is. But you just don't go and do that. It shows what type of person he is."
McHale coached Harden for three-plus seasons in Houston and was fired in November 2015, just 11 games into his new four-year, $12 million contract. Harden didn’t mince any words for him, questioning the NBA Hall of Famer’s true character.
"I'm just here to do my job, compete at the highest level I can,” Harden explained. “But when you're here, you're face-to-face, and you're telling me one thing -- how great of a player you are, how you're lucky that he's able to be a part of this process -- and then you go back just a few years later and basically just say the opposite, it just shows your character, shows who you really are. I'm not that type of person. I don't operate that way. I don't say things to somebody behind their back or tell them one thing or go on air and say another thing.”
There is certainly no love lost between the two. It remains to be seen if McHale responds to Harden’s remarks.