Houston Rockets star guard James Harden “pushed management” to fire head coach Kevin McHale earlier this season and tried to get the team to trade center Dwight Howard, according to CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, citing league sources Thursday.
McHale was surprisingly fired just 11 games into the season after the Rockets started 4–7. Rockets GM Daryl Morey said to ESPN at the time, “the team was not responding to Kevin.” And added, “there is no time in the West.”
— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) February 25, 2016
Since then the Rockets are just 24–22 under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and currently sit ninth in the Western Conference, where only the top eight teams make the playoffs.
Last year—the team’s fourth under McHale—the Rockets went 56–26 and advanced to the conference finals where they lost in five games to the Golden State Warriors. The team had improved in each of McHale’s first four seasons, never posting a winning percentage below .500, while advancing to the postseason three straight years—making his firing all the more curious.
The 30-year-old Howard, an eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is in his third season with Houston after signing a free-agent deal in the summer of 2013. He has an opt-out in his contract after this season and the prevailing feeling is that he’ll use it to become a free agent again.
Harden, 26, is a four-time All-Star who finished second in the MVP voting last year. If the reports are true, it would seem to make an awkward locker room.
“It’s really bad for the locker room dynamic,” a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports. “If everybody knows that James Harden can fire you or trade you, are you going to pass the ball to Dwight or are you going to pass the ball to James Harden?”
Apparently the answer is Harden as Howard’s shooting rates (8.7 per game) are the lowest it’s been since he was a teenage rookie with Orlando during the 2004–05 season. Meanwhile, Harden’s attempts per game (19.3) are a career-high.
But this is nothing new to Howard who was in one of the more famously awkward interviews ever four years ago with the Magic. Just after then-head coach Stan Van Gundy stood and told reporters that he had been told by upper management that it was Howard that wanted him fired, Howard came over and playfully put his arm around his head coach. When Van Gundy left, Howard was told by reporters what Van Gundy had just said. Howard struggled to deflect the questions. Watch the clip here: