Any perceived rift between James Harden and Dwight Howard during their time together in Houston was more than just a mere notion.
Harden pushed for the franchise to play Clint Capela over Howard last season, according to ESPN.com’s Tim McMahon:
Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard's playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager's plan to prioritize Capela's development.
League sources said input from face-of-the-franchise James Harden heavily influenced Houston management's desire to decrease Howard's minutes. However, team sources insisted that Harden was not involved in those discussions.
While Howard's minutes remained steady throughout the season, word of Rockets management's desire to reduce his role filtered back to the big man. That further deteriorated Howard's trust of the franchise, one of many factors in the dysfunction that dragged Houston down during a 41-41 campaign that came on the heels of a Western Conference finals run.
"There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me," Howard said in a May interview with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan. "It left me thinking, 'This is not what I signed up for.'"
Asked to elaborate, Howard added: "I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to Daryl and said, 'I want to be more involved.' Daryl said, 'No, we don't want you to be.' My response was, 'Why not? Why am I here?' It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach."
Morey declined to comment, and Howard declined to further discuss issues related to his Rockets tenure. Bickerstaff, now the Memphis Grizzlies' associate head coach, was not available for comment due to team rules restricting access to assistants.
The fallout from that disappointing 2015-16 season, one that resulted in the firing of coach Kevin McHale just 11 games into the season, led Howard to opt out of his contract. He chose Atlanta in free agency.