Basketball isn’t just about on court chemistry, but chemistry between players and the coach. A healthy chemistry between coaching and players is essential to a winning culture and success in the NBA, however, many times, even the greatest coaches and players can’t get along.
Though some can overcome their issues, other became so toxic that coaches and players had to be shipped out of town. These are 10 NBA stars that were HATED by their coaches.
James Harden & Doc Rivers
The most recent entry is also one that sets the tone for many other entries on this list. James Harden is unquestionably one of the greatest scorers in the modern era, but one thing that eludes him is a ring. After coming close in 2018 has failed to advance past the 2nd round of the playoffs. He soon found a way to the Doc Rivers led Philadelphia 76ers, where he was willing to to what it took to win.
Though Rivers is a championship coach, he’s never been the best ego manager, and one as big as Harden’s was going to create friction. Harden didn’t feel like he was used to his fullest, and Doc being an old school head, butted heads numerous times, and their dissatisfaction with each other was evident after a second straight 2nd round exit where neither endorsed each other. What makes this entry odd is that after Doc got fired, Harden still wants out.
Shaquille O’Neal & Stan Van Gundy
Another short feud, Shaquille O’Neal and Stan Van Gundy were personalities that were bound to clash. After getting traded from the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal was ready to help lead an up and coming Miami Heat team that was coached by Van Gundy. They experienced one of their more successful seasons in 2004-05, where they finished 1st in the East and came within a game of the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, the two were polar opposites. The polarizing O’Neal has always been known for his outgoing personality and is known for going too far at times, and Van Gundy was as rigid and old school as possible. The two traded barbs publically, and there’s a lasting belief that O’Neal got Van Gundy fired. Their feud never quite healed, as they continued to trade comments years later.
DeMarcus Cousins & George Karl
Sometimes a coach and player can be too alike. George Karl is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, but was known for his explosive outbursts. Demarcus Cousins was an amazing Center who was also known for his explosive outbursts. In 2015, the Sacamento Kings hired Karl to coach Cousins and the matchup seemed like a mesh of the right personalities.
This didn’t go well. The bull headed Cousins and Karl often showed their frustration with each other. The two got into shouting matches and even had a brief altercation following a game. This
volatile pairing only lasted for a season, as Karl was ousted at the end of the season. Though brief, the explosive duo left their mark on each other.
Deron Williams & Jerry Sloan
The Deron Williams/ Jerry Sloan hatred was born from day one. The late Sloan is one of the most respected head coaches in league history known for his hard-nosed approach. When the Utah Jazz drafted Williams in 2005, he and Sloan started off rocky but achieved much success, even making the Western Conference finals in 2007.
As Williams blossomed into a star, he and Sloan became strained. Williams wanted more freedom on offense, which led to one of the most documented locker room encounters, and Jerry Sloan retiring and Williams getting traded. They two would reconcile years later, but the tension between them left a mark that neither would recover from.
Dennis Rodman & Greg Popovich
This is a bit of a cheat, as Rodman had problems with both Popovich and head coach John Lucas II, but it was a major feud. The eccentric Rodman was always known for his free spirited, bad boy antics, and he was traded to the very strict, military style San Antonio Spurs, where Popovich’s leadership was evident on the team.
This soured almost immediately. Rodman wasn’t going to change for the Spurs, and Popovich made sure to fight him on it. No matter how many arguments, fines, or suspensions he gave Rodman, Rodman didn’t break, and the Spurs moved on from him. Both went on to win championships away from each other, but reconciliation is unlikely.
Kawhi Leonard & Greg Popovich
The first of the repeat coaches, Kawhi Leonard had a very public break up with Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard was developed into a great player and was the heir apparent for the aging Spurs dynasty. He was averaging career highs and fitting the Popovich system seamlessly before an injury sidelined him.
Following this, a public back and forth surrounding Leonard’s availability following a quad injury, where he and Popovich disagreed on his return and health status. Leonard would famously sit out the entire 2017-18 season as Popovich would vent his frustration through his players. Leonard would force a trade from San Antonio in that off-season, and the two sides may be better off apart.
Rajon Rondo & Rick Carlisle
This particular situation was more of a matter of bad fit than a personality. Both Rick Carlisle and Rajon Rondo were known for rubbing people the wrong way, but both were decorated champions. Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2014, where he was supposed to help them back into the playoffs.
Almost immediately, the fit issues were apparent as he isn’t what the Mavs needed to return to prominence. Carlisle knew this and struggled fitting Rondo in. Rondo wasn’t happy with this, being a competitior, and the two blew up at each other before Rondo left to the Sacramento Kings. Both have spoken publicly about their time together, and even defended each other at times. Wrong place, wrong player, wrong time.
Dwight Howard & Stan Van Gundy
This particular hatred followed both for the rest of their careers. Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard was at one point the best Center in the NBA, and much of this happened under the coaching of Stan Van Gundy. After being hired in 2007, the Magic saw multiple 50 win seasons and were perennial Finals contenders. It was seen as a matter of time before they won a title together.
Unfortunately, rumbles around Dwight’s mutual displeasure with Van Gundy became a cloud over the team. Van Gundy even addressed these rumors in a press conference, where Dwight defended him, which made both look foolish. Combined with verbal jabs in the locker room, it was clear they didn’t have faith in each other, and it led to both departing the Orlando Magic.
Magic Johnson & Paul Westhead
This is a case of bad fit. Though Magic Johnson is best known for his time with Pat Riley with the Lakers, his first head coach was Paul Westhead. The Lakers were quite successful under the strict, methodical offense Westhead ran, and even won a title in 1980. The team played great basketball together, but not everyone was happy with it.
Magic and Westhead were polar opposites. Where Westhead ran precise offenses, Magic didn’t feel like he was being played to his full potential. The two often clashed as Magic wanted the freedom to play his style, causing great tensions which led to a public trade request from Magic. The Lakers took Magic’s side and fired Westhead. Magic would rise with the Showtime Lakers, and Westhead would never coach a .500 team again.
Latrell Sprewell & PJ Carlesimo
There is no coach/player feud in NBA history that became as heated as the Latrell Sprewell and PJ Carlesimo debacle during the latter’s first season with the Golden State Warriors. Carlesimo was an old school coach who yelled at players and had a more NCAA approach to NBA players, which is typically frowned upon. Latrell Sprewell was a well known hot head and had numerous outburst and scuffles on court. Combining two explosive personalities in a single team, and conflict was inevitable.
During their first NBA season together, the Warriors started the season with a horrible 1-14 record, which means tensions were high on the team. Carlesimo’s coaching did not help the competitive atmosphere, which Sprewell was growing upset. During a practice, Carlesimo yelled
at Sprewell to make better passes, which resulted in Sprewell famously choking his head coach and being suspended the rest of the season. Though there is regret following the actions, their relationship and the season was dead on arrival. Though this list isn’t ranked, a physical assault has to be the worst Player and Coach feud in NBA history.
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