THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On Rockets-Warriors, college hoops and the curious case of Bill O'Brien's contract

Rob Gray and the Cougars missed a chance at a signature win. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Imagine having shelled out for Beatles concert tickets in their heyday, the show went on, just without John Lennon and Ringo Starr. That was pretty much the Rockets and Warriors at Toyota Center Thursday night with no James Harden for the Rockets and no Kevin Durant for the Warriors. Bummer. You still had Paul and George (though no Paul George), a couple of surefire future Hall of Famers playing in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, but the concert just couldn’t be the same with neither the Beard nor K-D taking part. Oh well. The teams meet again, in Houston again, in a couple of weeks. Perhaps Harden’s recovery froma hamstring tear is more rapid than expected and peak marquis value will be fulfilled.

As for the game the better team won, that is Golden State. The reigning champs forged a three game lead over the Rockets atop the Western Conference. With Harden sidelined for at least another couple of weeks, the Rockets chances of finishing atop the heap are slim and soon seemingly drifting closer to none.

A look at college hoops in the city

For college basketball, Houston has long been a wasteland. There is no worse major market in the country in terms of college hoop interest. In major league sports towns the pros almost always come  first, but here the colleges need upgrades to become afterthoughts. Nevertheless, let’s cover some college hoops!

The University of Houston basically being in a quarter century basketball coma is of course part of Houston’s rampant disinterest in college hoops. There are parents of current UH students with little to no recollection of the Cougars winning an NCAA game. They’ve even been in the NCAA tournament once in the last 25 years. They last won a tourney game in 1984, beating Virginia ahead of losing to Georgetown in the National Championship game. Five of the eight Ivy League schools have won NCAA games more recently. As have Hampton, Lehigh, Coppin St., Vermont, and more than 150 other schools.

It’s been more than 12 years since the Cougars appeared in the Top 25. A win at 9th ranked Wichita State Thursday night would have done the trick, but the game went about as well for UH as Waterloo did for Napoleon. Kelvin Sampson is a very good coach, the American is a very good basketball conference made better with the Shockers joining this season. The Cougars non-conference resume is weak beyond a rout of Arkansas (go Hogs in SEC play!). Short of winning the AAC Tournament, UH will need multiple signature wins over the likes of Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU.

Meanwhile, the best NCAA Tourney bet in town is again Texas Southern. The Tigers play in the SWAC,  which is one of the weakest D-1 leagues in the country. But someone has to make the tournament and Head Coach Mike Davis has things where someone is usually TSU (three of the last four years). The Tigers began this season playing 13 straight road games. 13! The Tigers went 0-13 including losses by 28 at 18th ranked Gonzaga, by 31 at 21st ranked Baylor, and by 43 at 3rd ranked Kansas. But there is method to the madness. The program picks up some decent paychecks along the way, and by playing against a bunch of opponents better than anything TSU will face in conference play the Tigers are toughened up.

It's O'Brien's world now

It’s Bob McNair’s money but a multi-year contract extension for Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien is silly. His four year win-loss record is 31-33, his worst season the most recent and much worse than his best season was good. I think O’Brien is a better bet to at some point to excel in his job than was Rick Smith as General Manager but that’s not exactly choosing between Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence. If O’Brien rides a healthy Deshaun Watson to a fruitful 2018 and then has leverage for a fatter contract or even chooses to walk, so be it. A good Texans team in 2018 would make the job attractive. A bad Texans 2018 season, and, well, why would you still want O’Brien? Smith is done as GM. Taking a year’s leave of absence as his wife works to conquer breast cancer is commendable. Replaced as GM it also sets up Smith to keep the sinecure post of Executive Vice President of Football Operations, or to move on. Smith the GM has been a mediocrity (86-90 over the 11 seasons he’s been a major factor in roster construction). The Texans hiring a one year temp GM would be laughable. Who of quality would even take the job with that scenario?

Buzzer Beaters

1. Central Florida makes itself look small and silly claiming its football team is the real National Champion    2. I’ll take Georgia plus the points vs. Alabama Monday night   3. Best sandwich meats:  Bronze-roast beef  Silver-pastrami  Gold-corned beef

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome