Shaq, Kenny, and Chuck talked about the “abuse of power” reports around James Harden and Paul George. They agreed every star in the NBA gets special treatment, but they need to a) earn it and b) use it with respect. Shaq had an interesting example from his Laker days.
“I played with a guy, didn’t like to practice, didn’t do anything – he didn’t even take showers after the game. But he’ll give you 25-30 rebounds. He was always late in meetings, always late in practice. Phil Jackson and Kurt Rambis let him do what he wanted to do. I said ‘How come he gets to..?‘ and they said ‘Nobody does his job better.’”Shaquille O’Neal, NBA on TNT
Shaq didn’t say who’s the guy. All I’ll say is that the only player who averaged double digits in rebounds for the Lakers while Shaq was there was the man, the myth, the legend – Dennis Rodman in ’98/’99. Shaq’s point was well taken; if you bring it every night on the floor, then it’s not an abuse of power. Chuck pointed out an important element of the equation. That’s true if we’re talking about someone who’s not the no.1 player on the team.
First of all, you do treat stars differently. But it’s up to stars not to abuse that privilege. When you’re a star, you do get treated differently. But you do have a responsibility to make the other guys feel good about themselves because you get all the credit and all the money. If you disrespect them, it’s going to boil over behind the scenes.Charles Barkley, NBA on TNT
Shaq claimed Harden didn’t abuse his power because he was putting up numbers. Kenny and Chuck disagreed because Harden used his power to be late for meetings, planes, and busses. When Russell Westbrook snaps and starts yelling to start the film session without Harden, a line has been crossed – you are disrespecting your teammates.
The important thing is to let the team know the special treatment a player is getting comes with expectations. It has to be earned, and the results have to keep coming in. Here’s how Phil Jackson set it up with Shaq.
“My agreement with Phil was, whenever I take days off, the next night, I gotta give him 40 and 15. Period. Nothing to talk about.”Shaquille O’Neal, NBA on TNT
The coach needs to set obvious boundaries. You get more perks as a star player, but those come with conditions, and even those have boundaries. For the coach to do that, he has to have support from the GM and owner. The only guy who had the courage to do that was Kevin McHale, and he got fired. That’s what’s changed in the NBA – not a lot of coaches have that support.
“When I played, Billy Cuningham would leave your ass. He left Dr.J and Moses. The bus and the plane. If he says we’re gonna leave at 5:00, we are leaving at 5:00. We’re not gonna leave at 5:05.”Charles Barkley, NBA on TNT
Even for this player empowerment era, the level of freedom James Harden was granted was too much and obviously had a detrimental effect on the organization. I put a lot of this on Daryl Morey, and it will be interesting to see if he’ll allow the same situation in Philadelphia. I’d say Embiid and Simmons need a bit of tough love, but Doc Rivers will only be able to coach them like that if he has support from the owners and the front office.