How the landscape in Houston sports is giving off 2017 vibes

Something similar could be on the horizon. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

There are good times on the horizon. If things go well, all three major pro sports teams in Houston will be in contention for playoff appearances at the same time. I know, I know. The Texans are not good right now and just traded a franchise quarterback. The Rockets just finished with the worst record in the league for the second year in a row. The Astros are back but lost a top star for the second consecutive offseason. Things are fragile, but there is a silver lining for all three. This hasn't been the case since October 2017.

Back then, things were looking up all across the board for every franchise of the major three. The Texans had drafted their franchise quarterback. While they'd end that season 4-12, they went into the bye week 3-3. After a half of football by Tom Savage in the opening game, Deshaun Watson came in and showed why he was drafted so high. He tore his ACL after the week eight loss to Seattle and that sent the season into a tailspin. Despite an abrupt end to their hopes, that team had a bright future.

The 2016-17 Rockets had come off a .500 season previously and would begin that season showing some promise after signing some new pieces to go along with James Harden. They'd finish 3rd in the West losing to the Spurs in the conference semis. It was the beginning of a period of play in which they would be thought of as contenders. Meanwhile, the Astros were busy winning the 2017 World Series and bringing this city its first major pro sports title since the '94-'95 Rockets. They were young, refreshing, and very talented. This was the first of five consecutive ALCS or more appearances.

I see something similar on the horizon. The Astros may have lost a couple stars, but they're still rolling. Some key guys are getting healthy, and the core is older, but this team still has the firepower to contend. They entered this season as a +1000 to win it all which was the third-best odds on the board at the time. The Rockets have a future star in Jalen Green, as well as a couple other guys that show some potential. Owning a potential top three pick in a loaded top half of the draft and armed with an additional first rounder could help propel this team into contention a lot sooner than what most thought. The Texans now own two first rounders in this draft and the next two after that. Rebuilds in the NFL are aided by wise decisions on free agents and drafting well. If they can take advantage of the opportunities in front of them, they too will be back in the playoff picture sooner than later.

In life, we sometimes have to take a few steps back before we can truly move forward. You'll get knocked down and taken off the path you're on many times. What defines you is how many times you continue to get up and persevere despite your circumstances. Each of these teams has had some challenges lately. Some have had more than others. However, I can see the Texans, Rockets, and Astros all giving the city of Houston something to be proud of at the same time very soon.

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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