James Harden pushed for Dwight Howard to be traded and for the Rockets to fire head coach Kevin McHale, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports.
Berger, citing multiple NBA sources, reported Harden pushed management to let go of McHale, who was fired after 11 games in which the Rockets went 4–7, just months removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals with essentially the same roster. Harden reportedly angled for general manager Daryl Morey to deal Howard, but the team was unable to find the right trade for the high-priced, mercurial center.
The Rockets are a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the West at 28–29 entering Thursday’s game against the Blazers. Berger reports the Harden-Howard rift has been at the center of the team’s internal issues.
“It’s really bad for the locker room dynamic,” a source told CBS Sports. “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?”
Rockets CEO Tad Brown told the Houston Chronicle Thursday that the report was untrue.
“I can tell you unequivocally being part of that management, those things never happened,” Brown said. “That’s frustrating. For whatever reason, it’s been consistent throughout this season as we struggle on the court to try to get things where we want them to be that people continue to take shots at our guys, take shots at our team with unnamed sources routinely providing that information.
“Whether it is James supposedly came in and demanded there be a coaching change; that never happened. Whether it is Dwight came in and said he wanted to be traded; that never happened. These things come up and they take on a life of their own.”
In a separate report Thursday, ESPN reported Harden and Howard are “friends.”
“I don’t know what the perception is; the reality is we get along and we want to win,” Harden told ESPN.
The Rockets are running low on time to figure things out. Howard will have the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent in the off-season.