TRADE ALERT

Here's why the Rockets are now in panic mode

Big changes are coming. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Late Monday night word broke that the Rockets had traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for former Rocket Trevor Ariza and a pair of first round picks.

Translation: the Houston Rockets are in panic mode.

Things have gone very south on Polk Street ever since Stephen Silas was announced as the Rockets new head coach three weeks ago. That interesting, yet innocuous move would ultimately turn out to be a fuse connected to a cache of explosives seemingly nestled right underneath the entire franchise.

Despite the simultaneous GM and coach turnover this off-season, Rockets fans were still able to find solace in the fact that they still, at the very least, had James Harden. At least until late Sunday night.

When Russell Westbrook made it known he wanted out last week, I didn't bat an eye. Outside of a short stretch in the regular season of vintage Brodie, nothing I witnessed last season suggested that Westbrook was some sort of missing piece that would be putting Houston over the top. An aging star with a mammoth contract, one could only hope that the Rockets would be able to move on from said failed experiment.

Harden wanting out, though, is an entirely different story.

Say what you want about his play style or aesthetic. He is still one of the top five players in the league. Houston is lucky to have him as an asset, and they should be doing everything they can to repair the situation.

If Harden's cryptic IG story is any indication of his leaning, then it looks like the Rockets chances of salvaging the confidence of the best player they've had since one Hakeem Olajuwon are all but gone:

If the message is "no cap," then it basically means "Yes, what you've heard is true."

Here's another less cryptic bit of evidence that Harden might want out:

Turning down $50 million per year is pretty clear statement. Now the Rockets can say that they're not listening to trade offers for Harden as much as they want, but the Covington trade signifies one of two things: they're either trying to use the assets they've received to make a move to appease Harden, or they're all but gearing up to make the numbers work for what is looking more and more like an inevitable separation between the two parties.

If there's any silver lining to be gleaned from the possible departure of one of the greatest players to ever wear a Rockets uniform, it's that the divorce would allow first year head coach Silas to install a scheme unhindered by the demands of one player with disproportionate leverage. A team with James Harden becomes a scheme designed around James Harden. That scheme typically boils down to a deluge of visually unappealing isolation plays with Harden dribbling the air out of the ball. With Harden potentially gone, Silas will be able to develop a more complete and creative scheme.

Simply put: if Harden's gone, we're going to find out real quick just how good of a coach Stephen Silas is.

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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