THE PALLILOG

Dream vs. Duncan and baseball in the balance

Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Jack Brame.

We're into month number three of a mostly sports-less world. Breaking news: it's not fun.

To fill some space this week ESPN.com released its ranking of the 74 greatest players in NBA history. The currently suspended season is the NBA's 74th. Unless you simply don't like the NBA, it's a fun list to discuss and debate. The ground rules for such rankings are never clear. Whose career would you rather have had: A. 10 times first team All-NBA, eight times first team All-Defensive team, two MVP Awards, or B. Five times first team All-NBA, five times first team All-Defense, one MVP Award? Easy call right? Hence, it's a Houston homer-ism issue to rail at Tim Duncan coming in ahead of Hakeem Olajuwon. Duncan placed eighth, Olajuwon twelfth. At his best Dream was greater than Duncan at his best, but for accomplishment and the longer span of greatness Duncan is the ranking guy. At their best Halle Berry or Salma Hayek? You can't go wrong. Ditto Timmy and Dream. Shaquille O'Neal split the difference between them in landing at number 10.

Couple of other notes and thoughts on the ESPN rankings. James Harden was slotted at number 32, Russell Westbrook at 42, Tracy McGrady at 52, Clyde Drexler at 57. All four of those guys are/were greater than Allen Iverson who is too high at 29. Iverson was tough as nails, played with ferocity, and it is spectacularly impressive that at six feet 165 pounds he led the NBA in minutes played per game seven times. Iverson averaged more than 25 points per game for 10 consecutive seasons. By my tally only six other guys in NBA history have done that. Shaq also 10 seasons in a row. Jerry West, Karl Malone, Kevin Durant, and Michael Jordan did 11 (asterisk on MJ, one of his 11 was his comeback season in which he played only 17 games). Counting the currently suspended season LeBron James is at 16 (16!). Awesome company for AI, but he was also a low percentage shooting inveterate gunner who was sometimes referred to as "Me, Myself, and Iverson" with some justification.


MLB

As the only non-salary cap league of our major professional sports, Major League Baseball needs its owners and players to negotiate stickier financial terms if there is to be roughly a half regular season plus postseason. On the macro level shame on the billionaires and millionaires if they can't arrive at a compromise. On the micro level there are legitimate bones of contention, though the 36 million Americans who have lost jobs over the past two months (and plenty still with jobs) have zero sympathy for the owners or players. Early on in the shutdown, the players agreed to take 170 million dollars which was theirs to keep if no season wound up being played at all. Beyond that the players agreed to basically a pro rata season salary tied to what percentage of the season was played. The players' position is that's the deal. The owners now say, hey, that was before we knew no fans at games would be real, and as a result all ballpark game day revenue would be lost. The owners say park-related revenue accounts for about 40 percent of the overall take.

The players' union leadership says the owners' offer of a 50-50 revenue split for 2020 and 2020 only is still a non-starter. When owner profits are through the roof the players don't get additional cuts. So why should the players give back additional money in time of losses? Answer: because in a "bad deal" the players would still divide a couple of billion dollars (give or take). With no season the players get nothing beyond the 170 million already received.

GET A DAMN DEAL DONE!


Respect for former Astros

Sad news with the passing of Bob Watson at 74 years old. On the field he's perhaps the most underrated player in Astros' history. Off the field, a class act and the first black General Manager of a World Series Champion (1996 Yankees). As one frame of reference for the "Bull" as a player, he had a seven-year stretch with the Astros that was clearly better than Michael Brantley was last season. Brantley was outstanding last season. Watson's power numbers were dragged down by home games in the Astrodome.

Meanwhile, send good thoughts the way of former Astros' player and manager Art Howe. He's 73 years old and hospitalized fighting coronavirus. Howe was the first Astros' manager I covered way back when. What an absolute gentleman. His 23 game hitting streak in 1981 stood for 19 years as the Astros' franchise record. Three Astros since have topped 23. Name them? Answer below.


NASCAR is back

NASCAR returns this weekend. Outstanding for NASCAR fans, but the idea that we're all so starved for live competition that millions will suddenly become auto racing enthusiasts and hence NASCAR audiences will skyrocket? Come on. Similarly, the PGA returning next month is great for golf fans, but isn't going to create scads of new golf fans. The day-to-day heartbeat of sports is local teams that generate common passion and breadth of interest.


Buzzer Beaters: 1. Worst joke I heard this week (by far): what is Forrest Gump's login password? 1-Forrest-1. 2. My series catch up viewing this week has been HBO's Succession. Not family night viewing, but really good. 3. Astros' longest hitting streaks: Bronze-Tony Eusebio 24 Silver-Jeff Kent 25 Gold-Willy Taveras 30

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J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans all-time leader in sacks (96.0), is entering his ninth season with the franchise ahead of what will certainly be an anomaly year for the NFL. Due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, there is serious doubt that the NFL will be able to play a full 16-game schedule, while others express their concern with the league's inability to play any form of football come the fall of 2020.

There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the league this coming season, which is becoming a theme for Watt's future in Houston.

The 31-year-old defensive end has two years remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed in September of 2014. But as he prepares to embark on another year with the Texans through Zoom meetings with his teammates, a new contract is not on Watt's priority list.

"No, I don't think that's necessary," Watt told Houston reporters on Wednesday. "I fully understand and respect the situation that I'm in at the moment, and what's happened in the past few years, so I'm not gonna sit here and demand anything. I think if I went back and asked for an extension or more money, I think that would be the wrong move. I am just going out there to prove my worth and to help this team win games."

As of now, it is unsure what the future holds for Watt's career with the Texans. Should management re-sign the three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner (2012, 2014 & 2015), the question becomes: How much is Watt worth as he enters the twilight of his career? It's the subject that will be the driving force when discussing Watt's future with the team, and the segment that sparked a trade rumor of his departure to the Chicago Bears.

Although his on-field production remains extremely valuable, Watt has had a difficult time trying to stay healthy. Since 2016, he has missed 32 out of a possible 64 games due to an abundance of injuries. In 2019, Watt missed half of the season after suffering a torn pectoral during the Texans' 27-24 victory over the then-Oakland Raiders.

"My goal for every season is to do whatever possible to help this team win, and number one, that means staying healthy," he said. "You have to be on the field in order to help the team win, and then it is to play at the peak physical level I am capable of. It is just making sure I am in the best possible shape to perform that way."

Contract and injuries aside, the five-time Pro-Bowler is excited about his opportunity to play under new defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver. During his introductory press conference two weeks ago, Weaver said Watt will remain the focal point for the Texans' defense in 2020, but acknowledged getting the future Hall of Famer through 16 games remains a hurdle.

After four seasons serving as Houston's defensive line coach, the Texans promoted Weaver to defensive coordinator in January to replace Romeo Crennel.

"I love [Anthony] Weaver... I think that he has a great mixture of knowledge of the game, experience, but also personality to be able to handle the players in the room," Watt said. "To be able to inject some fun and excitement into meetings, practice and everything, all while bringing the knowledge necessary to run a good defense."

Under the guidance of a new defensive coordinator, Weaver may be just the coach to help Watt rekindle the potential that made him an All-Pro defensive end. Regardless of the uncertainties surrounding his future at the conclusion of his contract, Watt is hoping he will have the opportunity to finish his career where it started — in Houston.

"That is a goal of mine, and this city [Houston] has been incredible to me since I got here," Watt said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I certainly hope that's the case."

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