4th and a mile with Paul Muth

Here's how James Harden may have sealed the Rockets' fate

This could get ugly. Photo by Getty Images.

Another day, another domino falls in the saga that the Rockets' off-season has unexpectedly devolved into.

Earlier this week the Rockets looked to be making forward progress toward the recently agreed upon December start date. Former head coach and Jazz player Jeff Hornacek, along with Orlando Magic assistant Rick Higgins were announced as top assistants to aid first year head coach Stephen Silas as he takes over court side for the recently departed Mike D'Antoni.

Former Rocket Vernon Maxwell had an interesting take on the Hornacek hire:

Maxwell remains undefeated on Twitter against Utah. But I digress.

The Rockets had made another move the week before in retaining Rockets assistant John Lucas. This was considered a win by most, since Lucas was nominated and backed by Rockets superstar James Harden as a candidate for the head coaching position once it became available. While he was ultimately passed over for Silas, it looked like retaining Lucas to appease Harden and the locker room was a savvy move.

Not savvy enough, apparently. According to ESPN, Harden and Westbrook have lost confidence in the Rockets front office, and they have plenty of reasons to.

The NBA is a star driven league. There aren't many true game altering superstars in the league, and the ones that are know their worth. If your team is lucky enough to have one, that talent comes with the understanding that they can have leverage on team building if they choose to. As a result, it's imperative to keep those stars happy and confident that the team is doing everything they can to win.

Losing D'Antoni was a hit most expected was coming. A head coaching change on its own is something that can be, and has been weathered by Harden before. Most teams in serious contention typically chase after coaches with pedigree, however. It's a very clear way to signal to your team that you mean business, and expect to win. The Rockets, however, chose a rookie head coach. Still, these are issues that on their own can be worked around.

Losing general manager Daryl Morey on top of that, however, is cause for concern. Even then, if a comparable replacement is sought after, you're signaling a commitment to winning. The Rockets chose to forego that route as well, opting instead to hire a rookie GM from within.

Unproven GM. Unproven coach. An owner that has shown an extreme reluctance to spend. It's hard to fault 31-year-old Harden for growing skeptical.

The problem isn't that he's skeptical of the team's ability to win. The problem is that the publicization of his skepticism all but guarantees it.

This is essentially a flare shot up from Harden's camp that something needs to be done to ensure that the Rockets remain competitive. The front office has from now until the season begins on December 22nd to make something happen.

They have no cap room. They have no draft picks. They have very few tradable assets. Their owner looks disinterested in spending into the luxury tax. The Rockets are up against the wall to make a move, but a move isn't really there to be made.

These were issues that were already established. What now needs to be taken into consideration is how quickly Harden's comments may have soured potential free agents.

We see instances every offseason of free agents taking pay cuts to play with superstars if there is a chance of contending. This scenario is the only possible way that the Rockets could bring in a quality free agent considering how strapped they are financially at the moment. Those instances, however, require one very key component:

The superstar.

If you can't guarantee that Harden will even be in Houston after the trade deadline, why would anyone take a pay cut to come here?

By Harden questioning his confidence in the Rockets, he eliminated any guarantee that he would be on the roster by the end of the season, and simultaneously rendered the Rockets' free agent pool that much more shallow.

It's a situation that could quite possibly be cleared up with a sit down or a strong start to the season. I have no reason to believe the Rockets would move Harden before the season starts. But if the reports are true, and Houston finds themselves forced to move one of the top 5 best players in the league, it would mark a sad end to what was an exciting chapter in Rockets history.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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