James Harden's Style of Play, Personality Reportedly Frustrating Rockets Players

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2015

Houston Rockets' James Harden smiles during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 109-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Former head coach Kevin McHale may have been the fall guy for the Houston Rockets' 4-7 start, but he's not the only person at fault in the locker room.

According to Jeff Zillgitt and Sam Amick of USA Today, Rockets players have grown unhappy with guard James Harden's on-court play and "aloofness."

Harden, 26, is averaging his typical 27.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game but has struggled mightily from the field. He's hitting 37.2 percent of his shots overall and a disconcerting 26.2 percent from three-point range on more than nine attempts per game.

Also an issue is Harden's defense, which was vastly improved during the Rockets' Western Conference Finals run a year ago but has regressed hard this season. Opponents are scoring 6.7 points more per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor, per Basketball-Reference. NBA.com's advanced stats show opposing players are making shots at a 3.7 percent higher clip when defended by Harden.

"He had such a bad reputation in 2014, and he worked very hard to correct that. Bad news: His problems are back," Matt Moore at CBS Sports wrote.

The Rockets currently sit No. 29 in defensive efficiency, ahead of only the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans, per NBA.com. They tried to rectify that problem Wednesday, firing McHale after four-plus seasons and naming J.B. Bickerstaff as his interim replacement. Bickerstaff, the son of former NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff, was responsible for installing Houston's top-10 defense last season and has been a well-regarded assistant for years.

While that's all well and good, Bickerstaff's biggest responsibility will be coaxing more effort out of his stars. The Rockets aren't drastically changed from last year's 57-win unit; most analysts, in fact, believed they improved. Instead, they appear listless—a bad sign for a team that's dealing with injuries all over its frontcourt. It's a large reason why McHale, whom Zillgitt and Amick noted "took the brunt of the blame" at a players-only meeting Tuesday, is no longer on the bench.

If McHale's firing a year after being a Coach of the Year candidate wasn't enough, it's now clear: There are fissures in Houston. The Rockets will have to hope Bickerstaff can fix them before it's too late.

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