Asked by reporters Saturday about the comments (via ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon), Harden said McHale is "a clown" for questioning his leadership ability.
Speaking as part of an NBA TV panel Friday, McHale praised Harden's ability as a basketball player before taking him to task for not being a good leader.
"James can see all the passes and do everything, but James is not a leader," McHale said, via ESPN.com. "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."
McHale served as Houston's head coach from the 2011-12 season through the first 11 games of the 2015-16 campaign. Harden was traded to the Rockets by the Oklahoma City Thunder on the eve of the 2012-13 season.
In three full seasons together as player and coach, Harden and McHale led the Rockets to three straight playoff appearances and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2015, when they lost to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors in five games.
Harden was the 2016-17 NBA MVP runner-up after he averaged career highs of 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds in 81 games to help the Rockets post a 55-27 record.