ROUGH DAY FOR HOUSTON SPORTS

Chiefs once again remind Texans what a real championship contender looks like

Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

It was an unprecedented day in Houston sports history Thursday as for the first time its three major professional teams all played meaningful games on the same day. THUD, THUD, THUD. In reverse chronological order of play Thursday:

The Texans returned to the scene of the crime to kickoff the NFL season Thursday night, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City site of their thorough playoff collapse back in January. They pretty much picked up where they left off. Unlike the postseason debacle where they led 24-nothing before epically unraveling, this time the Texans took only a 7-nothing lead before getting destroyed the rest of the way. The Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champs with good reason and are going to beat most of the teams they play, but the Texans took a two-by-four to the forehead reminding all how far away they are from real championship contender status. In less than seven quarters of football from early second quarter of the playoff game to before the Texans scored two garbage time touchdowns Thursday night, the Chiefs obliterated the Texans 82-14.

The offensive line with all five starters back, underwhelmed. The Chiefs applied persistent pass rush heat on Deshaun Watson resulting in four sacks with more avoided thanks to Watson's greased pig elusiveness. The Texans had basically no downfield passing game.

Next up for the Texans are the Ravens at fan-less NRG Stadium. Then they play at Pittsburgh, then home vs. the Vikings. So 0-4 out of the gate is absolutely in play. If the games were decided by which team has the better head coach and general manager, 0-4 would be more than in play.

Rockets down 3-1

From down three games to one perhaps the Rockets have a dramatic series comeback in them. Stop laughing! Sports happen. But the better bet is that General Manager Daryl Morey's "we should win this thing" proclamation is going down as laughably and arrogantly not even close. The Rockets are good. The Lakers are clearly better. They have the two best players in the series in LeBron James and Anthony Davis and there is nothing the Rockets can do about that.

In games two and three the Lakers squashed the Rockets in the fourth quarter, in game four it was settled by halftime. The Lakers relaxed and got lazy and dumb (led by LeBron) which enabled the Rockets to close within five with just under a minute left, but that was that. The story is that the Laker defense has disrupted and flummoxed the Rocket three point bombs away attack, and defensively the Rockets way too often opened a can of quit. Sometimes when taking an ass-kicking a team can look like it gave up or didn't show up, when really it's just a matter of getting vastly outplayed. That after game four neither James Harden nor Russell Westbrook neither denied a lack of team intensity nor had an explanation for it is an indictment of a pseudo-contender.

Harden turned 31 last month, Westbrook turns 32 in November, Eric Gordon turns 32 Christmas Day, P.J. Tucker is 35. It's been a quarter century since the Rockets last won the Western Conference. There is no good reason to think the drought ends any year soon.

Astros go down swinging

We can stick a giant fork in the Astros' run as American League West champion. It's done. A miserable 1-8 road trip leaves the Astros' breathing Oakland Athletics' exhaust fumes. If the A's improbably play just .500 ball, the Astros have to go undefeated the rest of the way to win the division. At 22-23 the Astros remain highly likely to make the playoffs, though only because of the expanded format attached to this 60 game season. With 15 games to play the Astros enter the weekend just two games ahead of Seattle for second in the AL West. After two with the Dodgers the Astros final 13 games are all vs. losing teams, three of those are at Seattle. Blowing a playoff spot to the Mariners would be an embarrassment. Barring that development, the Astros will still pose a very legitimate threat to any team they face in an AL playoff series. But that bullpen that if playing darts would often miss the dartboard entirely…

Buzzer Beaters:

1. We await resolution on the Danuel House story. If his denial of wrongdoing is as accurate as Morey's prognosticating appears right now, House was an immature and irresponsible chump of a teammate and professional. If is a very important word.

2. There probably will be an upset or at least a scare of one, but as matchups go there isn't one college football game worth watching Saturday.

3. Andy Reid is a great coach. As an athlete, he's a great coach (though he did play at BYU). Greatest athlete Andys: Bronze-Pettitte Silver-Murray Gold-Robustelli

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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