Rock­ets star James Har­den calls for­mer coach ‘a clown.’

Guard calls for­mer coach ‘a clown’ for be­lit­tling his lead­er­ship abil­i­ties

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jonathan Feigen jonathan.feigen@chron.com twit­ter.com/jonathan_feigen

James Har­den, de­scrib­ing him­self as “up­set” at for­mer Rock­ets coach Kevin McHale’s com­ment that the guard is not a leader, hit back on Satur­day and hit hard.

“He’s a clown. Hon­estly,” Har­den said. “I did any­thing and ev­ery­thing he asked me to do. I tried to lead this team since I stepped foot here in Hous­ton. To go out there and down­play my name, hon­estly, he’s never taught me any­thing to be a leader. But I’ve done a great job. The or­ga­ni­za­tion, my coaches. You can ask any of those guys how I worked ex­tremely hard ev­ery sin­gle day to, ob­vi­ously, be a bet­ter bas­ket­ball player, but to be a leader as well, de­fen­sively as well.”

McHale was fired 11 games into the 2015-16 sea­son, the start of his fifth year as the coach. McHale said in an NBA-TV dis­cus­sion re­leased Fri­day that it is not Har­den’s “per­son­al­ity” to be a leader.

“James is not a leader,” McHale said. “He tried be­ing a leader last year, tried do­ing 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. On ev­ery team you have to have some­body that when they say some­thing peo­ple lis­ten. … Like if James tells you ‘Chuck (Charles Barkley), you got to play bet­ter D,’ are you lis­ten­ing to him? You got to be kid­ding me. I lived through it be­lieve me … ev­ery time he men­tioned de­fense every­body would put their head down like ‘you got to be kid­ding me.’ ”

McHale went 193-130, the best win­ning per­cent­age of any coach in Rock­ets his­tory, other than Mike D’An­toni, who led the Rock­ets to a 55-27 record last sea­son. Har­den was the run­ner-up for MVP in the 2014-15 sea­son un­der McHale and again last sea­son while play­ing for D’An­toni. D’An­toni dis­agrees

Har­den rarely re­sponds to com­ments made about him, but he was clearly of­fended the crit­i­cism came from McHale.

“To down­play my name like that, it shows his char­ac­ter,” Har­den said. “I usu­ally don’t go back and forth on so­cial me­dia with any­body or with in­ter­views. But it’s time to stand up for my­self. You just don’t go and do that. It shows what type of per­son he is.”

Asked if McHale could be re­act­ing to the abrupt end of his ten­ure as Rock­ets coach, Har­den said, “For sure, and I had noth­ing to do with it. I’m just here to do my job, com­pete at the high­est level that I can.”

D’An­toni said he can only judge from his time around Har­den, but he praised Har­den’s lead­er­ship since he be­came the Rock­ets coach in June 2016.

“All I can do is talk from my ex­pe­ri­ence, and he’s been un­be­liev­ably great,” D’An­toni said. “Ob­vi­ously, I got (NBA) Coach of the Year last year be­cause of him and the other 10 guys on the team. He’s been great with ev­ery­thing I asked. I asked a lot of him last year. I asked him to be the point guard, I asked him to talk on D, I asked a lot of things and he re­sponded great. We had great chem­istry.

“He’s the first one to get them all to­gether in the sum­mer­time or take them out dur­ing the year to keep the team to­gether. So, I didn’t see it. He’s been great for me.” ‘Shows your char­ac­ter’

Har­den said he has worked on his lead­er­ship abil­i­ties, talk­ing of­ten with Rock­ets trainer Ja­son Biles and seek­ing to learn from Paul, long con­sid­ered one of the NBA’s most ef­fec­tive lead­ers. But he said McHale did not in­di­cate any is­sues with his lead­er­ship of the Rock­ets when they were to­gether.

“When you’re here and you’re face-to-face and you’re telling me one thing, how great of a player you (are), how lucky he is to be a part of this process, then go back a few years later and ba­si­cally say the op­po­site, it shows your char­ac­ter,” Har­den said. “It shows who you re­ally are. I’m not that type of per­son. I don’t op­er­ate that way. I don’t say some­thing (about) some­body be­hind their back or tell them one thing and go ahead and say the other thing.”

Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

For­mer Rock­ets coach Kevin McHale left, and guard James Har­den worked in tan­dem while to­gether, but re­cent com­ments by McHale have cre­ated a rift with the bearded su­per­star.

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