Kevin McHale goes nuclear on James Harden, blames him for Rockets firing

James Harden, Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets (Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
James Harden, Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets (Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

Former Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale didn’t mince words when discussing James Harden and his ongoing feud with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

James Harden’s feud with the Philadelphia 76ers has gone public following the point guard’s bold comments at a recent media event in China. He called Sixers president Daryl Morey “a lair” and vowed never to play for him again.

The Sixers, meanwhile, aren’t changing their approach. Morey shut down trade talks earlier in the week and he plans to bring Harden into camp. If Harden pulls a Ben Simmons and refuses to report, he runs the risk of incurring serious contract penalties.

Simply put, we are in the beginning stages of an extremely messy breakup. Harden and the Sixers are beyond feasible reconciliation and it’s only a matter of time until the 33-year-old former MVP finds his way to a new team. How long it takes, however, is ultimately up to Morey. There isn’t a more patient soul in the basketball world.

As Harden’s tenure with yet another franchise flames out in spectacular fashion, former Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale is making his thoughts known about his former pupil.

Kevin McHale blasts James Harden amid Philadelphia 76ers feud

“The next year he came to camp, he was fat and didn’t feel like playing, and I got fired (11) games into the season,” McHale told Heavy. “He had a plan.”

McHale is referring to the 2015-16 season, when Harden arrived at camp out of shape and visibly uncommitted to McHale. While there were plenty of valid critiques of McHale as a coach, few players have been more active in determining their exact circumstances than Harden.

He would later deploy a similarly disinterested persona when forcing his way out of Houston in 2020. Harden showed up to camp overweight, played eight games well below his usual standards, and was shipped to Brooklyn before the new year. When he wanted out of Brooklyn, he made his opinion known with, you guessed it, blithely unserious play that belied a very obvious desire to leave.

If the Sixers force Harden into camp and into the regular season rotation, one can expect the same tactics. Harden has allegedly been working hard all summer to prove the doubters wrong, but any image repair will probably wait until after he’s traded to a new team.

McHale also provided some keen insight into Harden’s flaws as a player. He’s a brilliant offensive talent — even his most vociferous detractors can’t deny it — but Harden has long been a lightning rod for criticism due to his one-dimensional approach.

"“I mean, if you watch Steph Curry, look at him set screens and look at the separation he gets when he sets a screen and just sprints out of it. Look at him coming off actions. He does that, and everybody gets open because of it. That became more of a problem with James.”"

Ever since his ascent to superstardom, Harden never made any sincere effort to operate away from the ball. He begrudgingly embraced spot-up 3s with the Sixers last season, but he still wasn’t weaving through off-ball screens or filling the lane. Harden either dribbles, shoots, passes, or waits patiently on the perimeter.

"“He wanted the ball in his hands, he didn’t want to come off actions, he just started becoming more one-dimensional. ‘Give me the ball, put a 1-4 flat or give me a pick and roll, and just let me make every decision.”"

McHale didn’t stop with Harden, either. He also had notes on Daryl Morey, who he called ‘smart,’ but with reservations.

"“I liked working with Daryl, though sometimes I thought there was too much … just analytics. There’s an odd thing in basketball that’s very hard to define. But if my skill set and your skill set really match and we really have great chemistry, you and I can beat two guys 2-on-2 when neither one of us could beat our guy 1-on-1. That’s the fun thing about basketball, and I always thought that could get lost. There were a lot of numbers with Daryl.”"

Morey revolutionized NBA front offices with his embrace of analytics and he built one of the most potent offensive teams in NBA history around Harden in Houston. He is, without question, one of the great basketball minds of his generation.

That said, Morey does have blind spots. He doesn’t always pay the most attention to chemistry and continuity in the locker room. He’s willing to invoke major changes midseason, or to upset a player in an effort to extract maximum potential value from a trade. The Sixers are on the verge of wasting a year of Joel Embiid’s prime because Morey took the hands-off approach to Harden’s free agency. He approaches the game with a cold, logical mind. Sometimes the inherent humanity of sports can get lost with him.

The Sixers should probably take a couple notes, as should future employers of Harden. He’s a spectacular basketball player, a true one-of-one offensive engine, but there are flaws — both in terms of approach and in terms of personality — that are worth noting.

Next. 3 dark horse teams who should trade for Harden. dark