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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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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