Harden "pushed management" to fire former head coach Kevin McHale and tried to get the team to trade center Dwight Howard, according to a Thursday report by CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, citing league sources.
On Thursday night, Rockets CEO Tad Brown denied the veracity of the report, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins:
"I can tell you unequivocally, being part of that [front-office] team, those things have never happened," Brown said. That's frustrating, and, for whatever reason, it's been a constant throughout this season. As we struggle and as we continue to struggle a little bit on the court, trying to get things to where we want them to be, that people have continued to take shots at our guys, take shots at our team, with unnamed sources being the ones who routinely provide that information."
Harden got his wish just 11 games into the season when the team fired McHale after a 4-7 start.
"The team was not responding to Kevin," general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN.com at the time. "There is no time in the West."
Since McHale's firing, the Rockets are 24-22 under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, but they are still in ninth place in the Western Conference.
With talent like Harden and Howard, the team should be higher than that. But Harden's desire for the team to trade the center is currently affecting the Rockets, a person close to the situation told Berger.
"It's really bad for the locker room dynamic," the source said. "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?"
The numbers show that the answer to that question is Harden:
|28.3||Points Per Game||14.5|
|19.2||Field Goals Attempted Per Game||8.7|
Regardless of the disparity in production, the two players form one of the best tandems in the league, according to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports:
The Harden-Howard pairing is still the fourth-most productive this season based on combined totals of points, rebounds and assists per game (69.4). Only the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (81.8), the Warriors' Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (72.8) and the Sacramento Kings'DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo (71.8) have been more productive.
Yet Howard was the subject of trade talks as the deadline came and went on Feb. 18. Only Morey knows how much of that actually had to do with Harden.
A player trying to control management isn't new either, according to Berger:
Grant Hill didn't support Doug Collins in Detroit in the late 1990s, and Collins was fired. Ditto for Penny Hardaway and Brian Hill in Orlando. The great Magic Johnson deserves as much credit as anyone for ushering in the Pat Riley "Showtime" era with the Lakers, having exerted his influence to elbow Paul Westhead out of the way.
Gary Payton and Paul Westphal in Seattle. Jason Kidd and Byron Scott in New Jersey.
And there's Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James, of course. According to Berger, James had a hand in the firing of coaches, formation of teams in Miami and even in the establishment of a sports agency.
Because Harden is such a star in this league, management might think it wise to take his wants into consideration. It's easy to replace a coach or a supporting player. It's not as easy to replace a player who has averaged over 25 points per game for the last four years.
Ultimately, though, it all comes down to winning, and Harden's Rockets haven't been able to reach the peak in a difficult Western Conference. This season doesn't suggest that will change either.
Instead of focusing on what one player wants, the Rockets should focus on uniting the team for a stretch run and a shot at the playoffs. If the team starts finding some success, then maybe these reports of Harden's voice in management's ear will subside a bit.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.