SWITCHING SIDES

Del Olaleye: Sports fans and announcers have selective memories when a player is on their team (yes, this is about Chris Paul)

Chris Paul has never been a nice guy on the court. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Sports fans’ memories can be selectively short. As passionate as we can be, our sports moral compass lacks a due north far more often than we would like to admit. Our team’s success comes first, hypocrisy be damned.  I’ve chronicled sports hate in the past and I fully embrace that aspect of fandom. In contrast there is an uglier, dirtier and rarely talked about phenomenon called sports forgiveness that seems to have taken hold in Houston and I won’t suffer it. I made that term up so don’t try fighting me on the definition. Sports forgiveness as defined by the Del Olaleye Dictionary can be described as “A complete change of heart about a rival player. This change of heart might even be described as selective amnesia.” This change of heart occurs the minute a once hated player joins your favorite team. We’re all guilty of this, but there is one group who is most at fault and they feel no apparent shame for their betrayal.

Announcers for your favorite team are the main culprits. They appear to be predisposed to forgetting the previous shade they’ve thrown at a player simply because he has their employer’s uniform on. As my radio co-host Raheel Ramzanali pointed out, Chris Paul has all of sudden had his past transgressions wiped clean because he now wears a Rockets uniform. In a recent broadcast, former Rockets great Clyde Drexler disputed a technical foul call levied against Paul due to the new Rockets point guard’s apparent sterling reputation on the court. If there was a way to correctly convey the “Nick Young Face” meme in words I’d do it. Absent of that I’ll just provide the meme here. If you simply google “Chris Paul dirty” the articles will start flowing. One publication named Paul “NBA’s Master of the Low Blow.” I’m just guessing here,  but maybe -- just maybe -- Mr. Drexler is a bit off base in his assessment.

The retcon of Chris Paul’s past is understandable. If Paul played for your favorite team you would forget that he is the new John Stockton, too. None of us is above it. Winning is the thing and he is an elite player whose acquisition has firmly put the Rockets in the best teams in the NBA discussion. We should still at least try to be better. Lets not pretend he is something he isn’t. Acknowledge that he has a groin punching past and keep it moving. No need to lie to ourselves and others. Would a Texans fan pretend that Cortland Finnegan wasn’t what he was? Did you enjoy watching Andre Johnson connect on a punch to Finnegan’s skull? If Finnegan was an elite player and the Texans acquired him, would you just have happily swallowed the Texans play-by-play announcer defending Finnegan after a personal foul penalty? That scenario would definitely happen. You just don’t have to be the fan that nods their head in approval. Don’t be that fan.

We’re all put into a position where guys we once rooted against are now guys we root for. That is just the current sports landscape messing with our fandoms. You might have laughed at Trevor Ariza missing a jumper when he is on the Lakers in 2009 and then cheered for him as a Rockets player months later that same year. That is acceptable. I don’t think Ariza makes anyone’s “never root for” list. Every fan should have one of those. That list consists of players that will never get love if they join your team. You’ve drawn a firm line and you pray your favorite team doesn’t force you to approach that line.

Matt Barnes was a popular choice when this topic was discussed on the Raheel and Del show.

Derek Fisher’s cheap shot to Luis Scola earned him a place on several people’s list as well. Would you tolerate Craig Ackerman, Matt Bullard and Bill Worrell defending Fisher or Barnes if they put on a Rockets jersey? They would, by the way. There is absolutely no shame in the local announcer game. Don’t allow their homerism to make you forget. Chris Paul has been hitting people in their Spaldings since college. Cheering for Paul isn’t wrong but never forget.

You weren’t in a coma during Paul’s first twelve seasons in the NBA. You know what he is. Don’t pretend that you don’t.

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10 days ago I noted that the Astros had finished an amazingly lengthy schedule stretch that would have needed to harden up to become powderpuff soft.
I Tweeted this:

Well, seven wins against just two losses later, whip up is what they did. Sweeping four games from the Mets in which the Mets never led at any point? Not exactly payback for older Astros' fans who remember 1986, but sweet nevertheless. Taking three of five from the Yankees in all compelling games looked like a fabulous precursor to a highly possible third Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series matchup in six years.

Despite their present 48-27 mark the Astros are still seven games behind the Yankees and their crazy 56-21 ledger. The Yanks are absolutely catchable though. Not because the Astros are the flat out better team, nothing indicates that. It's the schedule. There are four losing teams behind the Astros in the AL West. Behind the Yankees in the AL East, three winning teams (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays). Even the woebegone for years Orioles are much improved, with the best last place record in Major League Baseball (as a reference point, the Orioles' record is 10 games better than AL West laughingstock Oakland). Over the coming dog days of summer the Yanks have the substantially higher intradivisional hurdles. The plot reeeeally thickens if the Astros sweep the doubleheader with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park slotted July 21 right out of the All-Star break. That's it for regular season matchups between them.

The Astros enter the weekend exactly as far ahead (seven games) of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins as they are behind the Yanks. That's a very strong position for the Astros to secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Remember, with the newly expanded postseason format byes go to the top two division winners in each league.

Now for the Astros it's back to a marshmallow opponents parade. They have 16 games remaining before the All-Star break, all vs. losers: six with the Angels, six with the A's, four with the Royals. Let's reasonably posit that the Astros successfully take out the trash more regularly than they did in the 34 game stretch. 12-4 is certainly plausible. That would get the Astros to 60 wins at the break with a record of 60-31, which would be on pace for a season total of 106.8 wins. Let's round up. 107 wins is the franchise record they set in 2019.

This team is outstanding, but still can use an offensive upgrade. The lineup just had its best month of the season but that didn't take a whole lot. Alex Bregman has finally perked up some. Yuli Gurriel, not so much. Martin Maldonado, pretty much unperkable. Heed this James Click: more potent lineups than the 2022 Astros came up short in the World Series in both 2019 and 2021.

Barring a huge second half of the season, Gurriel should not be in the Astros' 2023 plans. I'd say the same for Maldonado but he is on course to have a five million dollar option next year become guaranteed. He's played in 54 games this season, the option vests at 90. Ideally he's a backup. At the risk of some charging heresy, Maldonado's defensive imperativity (is that a word?) is overblown. Pitch-framing metrics do not rate him highly. He does not eliminate opposition running games. One, very few teams run much at all. Two, Maldonado has thrown out 26 percent of would be basestealers this season. Jason Castro has thrown out 25 percent. The big one last. With Maldonado behind the plate this season, Astros' pitchers' earned run average is 3.23. With Castro, 2.37. Would that hold up for Castro if he was the primary catcher? No chance. But sample size issues accepted, that Maldonado's defensive savant-ness renders his offensive ineptitude inconsequential? Nah. Certainly not in a lineup not up to recent past Astro teams.

Two weeks ago, this column covered Yordan Alvarez's chance at the greatest individual offensive month in Astros' history. Yordan's June ended with his scary collision with Jeremy Peña that knocked both out of Wednesday's matinée at the Mets and kept both out of Thursday's win over the Yankees. That was a harrowing smash as opposed to the delightful smashes that Alvarez busted out all over June. He finished batting .418 with an OPS of 1.346. Real and spectacular, but not quite ultimately as awesome as Jeff Bagwell's June or July 1994, or Richard Hidalgo's closing month of the 2000 season.

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