Charlie Pallilo: Rockets stand pat, Houston sports awards, college hoops and more

Charlie Pallilo: Rockets stand pat, Houston sports awards, college hoops and more
Daryl Morey, for once, did not make a deal.

Can you imagine Daryl Morey bouncing off the walls Thursday as the NBA trade deadline approached? Muscle memory for him, having swung at least one deadline deal in each of his first 10 years as Rockets’ General Manager. Nothing this year though. When the team he built is 40-13, not much need to wheel and deal. In fact there was NO need, though as terrific as they are the Rockets are obviously not perfect so Morey would have made a tweak he deemed right. One player the Rockets were linked to who would have made perfect sense is guard George Hill. A solid defender who shoots the 3-pointer better than any of the Rockets’ merry band of gunners, Hill would have been great insurance if heaven forbid Chris Paul or James Harden went down for a spell (as both have already this season). I imagine Mike D’Antoni may have enjoyed the idea of running out a super-small lineup of Paul, Hill, Eric Gordon, Harden, and Clint Capela.

Likely the only way the Rockets could have gotten Hill is if Sacramento or a third team in the deal would have taken Ryan Anderson’s contract which has two years and over $41 million guaranteed dollars left on it after this season. That just wasn’t going to happen. The Rockets’ quality and chemistry is such that not tinkering with it in any way affecting the core rotation is a highly reasonable way to go. Though push comes to shove, if Anderson for Hill would have been on the table I think it’s a trade Daryl Morey would have and should have made.

There is one more flurry of personnel moves to be made post-deadline. A number of players will be bought out of contracts and have until March 1 to sign elsewhere and be eligible for the playoffs. Daryl Morey will certainly check on at least one or two of them. Joe Johnson has already been mentioned as one possibility.

Bad news from trade deadline day for anyone Rockets-minded clinging to the fantasy of LeBron James coming on board this summer. The Lakers have cleared out enough salary for Magic Johnson to be positioned to lavish two max dollar free agent offers this summer. If LeBron leaves Cleveland for a second time, he’s taking his talents to Hollywood. Amusing if the LeBron to L.A. scenario comes to pass, it’s the Cavaliers who greased the skids enabling it with the deal the Cavs and Lakers made Thursday.

Houston sports awards

The inaugural Houston Sports Awards was a fabulous event Thursday night with a staggering amount of greatness in the room. Going forward it will be difficult to have another Houston Sports Awards gala with the same oomph. Only once can you build the event around honoring the “34s,” Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, and Nolan Ryan. And having a first time World Series Champion to celebrate.

The 34s of Houston are nearly unrivaled as a threesome to have played for the same city. Los Angeles can mount a legitimate case with its 32s: Magic Johnson, Marcus Allen, and Sandy Koufax.  Chicago is 2/3 there with 23s Michael Jordan and Ryne Sandberg, but Devin Hester (while arguably the greatest return man in NFL history) can’t swim with these sharks.

JEOPARDY! style: The answer is…Gordie Pladson, Willie Rodgers, and John Shumate.

Who last wore #34 as an Astro, Oiler, and Rocket before Ryan, Campbell, and Olajuwon?

College hoops update

Quick: what color do you associate with the University of Houston? Right you are, Cougar Red! Hence it was dopey for UH to wear black uniforms on national television while visiting SMU then wore red. Better to have substance in your favor than style, so the Cougars winning the game outrates the fashion faux pas.  A home loss vs. an SMU team playing minus its best player would have been damaging to the Coogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Instead, next week UH gets a second crack at Top 10 Cincinnati where a win could come close to sealing an at-large bid. The Cougars have made the Tournament exactly once in the last quarter century.

The Cosby Show was the No. 1 show on TV the last time Texas missed the Tournament in consecutive seasons. It’s been 30 years. The Longhorns better be careful. At 5-6 in the Big 12, a loss at TCU Saturday and the Horns have collapse potential.

Texas A&M meanwhile should beat Kentucky Saturday night at Reed Arena. That would get the Ags back to 6-6 in SEC play, after an 0-5 start.

Play ball

This time next week Astros’ pitchers and catchers will be working out at spring training. Yay!

Buzzer Beaters

1. Roy Jones Jr. fought Thursday night. That’s just sad.  2. Bill Belichick is the greatest NFL head coach ever, but not playing Malcolm Butler at all on defense in SB LII was just dumb.  3. Houston’s 34s:  Bronze-Nolan  Silver-Earl  Gold-Hakeem

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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