Astros Organization Saves the Day for Houston as Rockets and Texans Wallow in Uncertainty

Astros front office soars while Rockets and Texans fail

Composite photo by Jack Brame

Astros World Series photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Knowing when to give a contract extension is a skill, just like running the front office of a professional sports franchise is an art form. It takes a special set of characteristics to be able to balance finances, evaluate talent, execute contracts and manage people and personalities on a day-to-day basis. It is with that in mind that I can't help but shake my head in disappointment and disbelief when I look at the landscape of Houston sports and the three major sports teams that operate in our fair city. From ownership to the team operations side of the equation, the Astros are the saving grace for Houstonians as they continue to press all the right buttons, pull all the right strings and compete for a championship year after year. The Rockets and the Texans are a different story and the way they have gone about their business lately, to quote Vince Lombardi, has a lot of people wondering what the hell is going on around here?

Astros Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Thank goodness for the Astros! Owner Jim Crane has perfected the balance between letting his decision makers do their jobs and make the moves and trades and deals necessary to create a championship caliber club while knowing when to get personally involved in situations where his support, financial backing, and commitment were the difference between success and possible long term failure. He dug deep to trade for and then extend Justin Verlander. Without that one trade, at the last minute, this city may still be searching for its first World Series title. He committed the money and the contracts to lock up George Springer and Alex Bregman early when most owners would have let those players perform on bargain contracts until he absolutely had to pay them. He locked up Jose Altuve in a similar fashion and has never let finances get in the way of an opportunity to better his ball club. He promoted and extended Jeff Luhnow and key members of his staff that orchestrated the moves, drafts, and signings that have led to his organization being poised to compete for a championship this year and for years to come. There is harmony and communication throughout the process between ownership, management, the coaching staff, and the roster on a daily basis that has led to move after move that bettered the team and protected the clubhouse. From the savvy acquisition of Ryan Pressly to the controversial move to bring in Roberto Osuna. There was a lot that could have gone wrong, but because of the people involved, there has been so much that continues to go right.

Bill O'Brien, Denver Broncos vs. Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

To try and make sense of what is going on with the Texans these days you would need to get into the head of the man seemingly in control of everything the franchise does, head coach Bill O'Brien. A man who went from running the football team to somehow overseeing everything the organization does from a personnel and football perspective. A guy that was rightfully on the hot seat a little over a year ago after several mediocre seasons that all ended in disappointment.

Somehow and inexplicably, he was given a multi-year extension by the team instead of letting him play out the remainder of his contract as he tried to prove he was worthy of continuing on with the franchise. Bob McNair gave him that job security just as easily as he gave him his first NFL head coaching contract when he hired him hired to work with GM Rick Smith and create a culture similar to the one he helped develop in New England with the Patriots. Fans sat back and watched as the so-called "Quarterback Whisperer" brought in re-tread after re-tread to be the next signal caller for the squad, including several that used to play for him with the Pats. The one common thread they all shared was that they all failed miserably and quite noticeably.

Bill blamed Smith and Smith paid the price for it as he was reassigned and eventually stripped of his GM title and decision making power. O'Brien would not face any scrutiny. Instead, he would be empowered to lead the process of hiring Smith's replacement. That would lead to the hiring of one of his former colleagues, Brian Gaine. Gaine had worked with the Texans and O'Brien in the past and was someone that head coach raved about as he was introduced to the fans and the media. It was a fresh start and a new beginning in many ways for the franchise and the two men trusted to lead it into the future. The fairy tale scenario wouldn't last long as the team once again suffered another crushing home playoff loss after an up and down regular season. This offseason Gaine was criticized for his inability to land a top tier free agent and for failing to move up in the draft while he selected a player many thought would have been available later on. Last week, to the surprise of just about everyone, Gaine was fired less than two years into a five-year deal. Now O'Brien is once again in the middle of another search to find a GM that he is compatible with while the fan base and city shake their collective heads and wonder how this man that has been average at best as a head coach, not only still has his job, but is in charge of just about everyone else's employment as he runs the operation his way. You can't help but think he's actually running the organization into the ground as he continues to hire more ex-Patriots staffers, including the person he hires to be the next GM. They may get the title but Billy somehow has all the power.

Daryl Morey Rockets.com

Unlike the Texans, the Rockets have been really good the last several years, including the last two seasons where they were arguably the second-best team in the NBA, falling to their nemesis the Golden State Warriors. Along the way, they set the franchise record for wins in the regular season and James Harden was the league's Most Valuable Player. Unlike Bill O'Brien, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni and his high powered offense set the world on fire by scorching the nets on a nightly basis, scoring seemingly at will, while setting records for 3-point shooting and made triples in a game and a season. Also unlike O'Brien, D'Antoni has been unable to get an extension that he has seemingly earned and instead has been the main focus of scrutiny and blame for what went wrong and is wrong with the team.

New Owner Tilman Fertitta is playing hardball with his tough talk after the tough loss to the Warriors that ended their season and for his handling of the negotiations with his head coach. GM Daryl Morey fired almost all of the teams assistant coaches, video department and player development staff, further creating turmoil for a team that should be looking to add talent this offseason instead of dismissing it.

On the subject of Morey, how is he not the recipient of more of the blame for the franchise's postseason failures? Unlike Rick Smith and Brian Gaine, Morey received a multi-year extension this year even though he publicly took the blame for this year's disjointed roster and lack of depth.

After all he was the one that brought in James Ennis and Michael Carter Williams to replace Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, just as he was the one that signed Clint Capela to a huge deal when he seemingly had no other teams bidding for his services. He also was the man who shook hands and agreed to the massive Chris Paul contract that will handcuff and potentially strangle the franchise financially for the next three years. The team has $95 million dollars wrapped up in four players for next season, putting them way over the salary cap and limiting what they can do to upgrade and improve their roster and Morey is the man who made those deals. Sure, James Harden deserves his contract and has earned every penny, but Paul, Capella, and Eric Gordon are not going to win a title without acquiring more help to fill out the roster. Last season Morey lucked out when Kenneth Faried and Austin Rivers chose Houston after being bought out, even though he received all the credit for orchestrating their arrival in Houston.

If fans have to hope the buyout market is their savior next season it may be hard to keep hope alive. Morey is going to have to earn his money this offseason while the rest of the league looks on at a franchise that seems to be at a crossroads, if not in disarray. Free agent players are watching with keen interest as there is uncertainty with the coach, the staff, the roster and maybe most importantly, the two best players.

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NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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