Apparently, James Harden.
Multiple league sources told CBS Sports that Harden pushed management to dump McHale, and has since angled for the Rockets to trade Howard. Rockets GM Daryl Morey delivered on the first demand, but was unable to find a suitable deal for Howard at the trade deadline this month.
“It’s really bad for the locker room dynamic,” a person familiar with the situation 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?”
Harden’s play and aloofness reportedly frustrated his teammates earlier in the season, but McHale took the blame for Houston’s struggles. With Howard and Harden reportedly not getting long (again), Howard was the one on the block.
It’s clear who holds the power in Houston: Harden.
And to a certain degree, that’s OK.
Harden is just 26 and finished a strong second in MVP voting just last season. He’s immensely important to the Rockets — more than McHale was and more than Howard is.
Superstars should wield power in their franchises. Too many people take the paternalistic view that coaches and general managers are more important, because they’re slotted higher on an imaginary organizational chart. But the best approximation for importance is salary, and stars make far more than general managers and coaches. The difference could be even greater without a salary cap, which restricts players but not other employees.
To respond to Berger’s source: If you know the coach can bench you, are you going to suggest strategy that he might not have considered? If you know the general manager can trade you, are you going to provide first-hand input that he might not see?
There’s always a risk in disagreeing with someone above you. That doesn’t mean you never should.
Easier said than done, but it’s up to franchises to create a culture where that’s done productively. That doesn’t require a superstar bowing down to someone less valuable to the franchise.
That said, there’s a balance, and the Rockets’ on-court display this season suggests they’re on the wrong end of it. Do you really want Harden setting the tone for your culture?
Houston can try appeasing Harden, and maybe that will lead to an organization where he and those around him thrive. His requests/demands might take the Rockets to a better place.
But they should also try to convince him to delegate some of his power to others — to Morey, to interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, to the next coach. It’s a lot for a player to handle well, and the player could just wind up putting himself in a worse situation.
The Rockets will be at their best if Harden is happy. They just have to find a way to please him without allowing him to cause destruction around him.
Again, easier said than done.