Falcon Points

Year in review: The top 5 Houston athletes for 2019

Each year the Houston Sports Authority does a variety of sports awards and honors the winners at a gala the next year. The biggest award is the athlete of the year award.

This year, the five finalists are Simone Biles, Alex Bregman, Deshaun Watson, James Harden and Justin Verlander. While Biles individual accomplishments are amazing (more on that in a moment), success at the highest level of team competition might be one of the most difficult accomplishments in sports. For our top five, we looked at overall accomplishments relative to competition, postseason success, awards and accomplishments. With that in mind, here are the top five in Houston sports for 2019:

5) DeAndre Hopkins

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

While many would argue for Deshaun Watson as the Texans representative on the list, with all due respect to Watson, Hopkins deserves the spot. He is second in the league in receptions, sixth in yards, and remains one of the three best receivers in the game. While you can make an argument that Watson is a top five QB, there is no argument about Hopkins. His postseason performance keeps him lower on the list.

4) Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The straw that stirs the Astros potent offense, Bregman was second in the AL MVP voting and his strong finish helped the Astros to the best record in baseball. He hit .296 with 41 homers, 112 RBI, 119 walks and struck out just 83 times. He has improved every year and there could easily be an MVP in his future.

3) Gerrit Cole

Yes, he is a Yankee now, but this is for 2019, and Houston fans should appreciate what he did. A 20-5 record, 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts got him oh so close to a Cy Young Award. He had one off start in the postseason, but otherwise he was a monster. Just because he is gone, his accomplishments should not be forgotten.

2) James Harden

While the narrative about postseason struggles is more than fair, Harden plays at an MVP level every year. He just missed out on that award last season, and he is on an incredible scoring pace this year, averaging a ridiculous 38.9 points per game. Simply one of the best offensive weapons in basketball and a threat for the No. 1 spot on this list year in and year out.

1) Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Yes, he struggled in the World Series. But the Astros don't get that far without the Cy Young winner. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a no-hitter. In his 15th year in the league, Verlander was the best pitcher in the AL by a narrow margin over Cole. He is a future Hall of Famer who is still pitching at a high level at the age of 36, and he is worth the price of admission every night. He is truly a baseball treasure.

Just missing out

Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans

There are many who will make a case for Simone Biles, and what she has accomplished is amazing. However, sports that are won solely on judging (gymnastics, figure skating, diving, etc.) can not be judged at the same level as sports that are determined by actual competition against other human beings. In short, no one plays defense in gymnastics. (And no, don't insert your Harden joke here). Those sports are all athletic, but they are more competition than sports. So she does not make our list.

Deshaun Watson would get the No. 6 spot. He will have a chance to rectify it this year, but his abysmal playoff performance against the Colts lessened his accomplishments. Is he a top five quarterback? Maybe. Certainly top 10. But that is not enough to get him on this list.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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