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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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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