NO GOING BACK

Here’s why the Rockets should play this differently

Disgruntled employees aren't good employees. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets open training camp for the 2020-21 season in exactly one week. So soon? Here's how things stand, and it's a wobbly picture:

James Harden, their best player, wants out of Houston so bad that he turned down the richest contract in NBA history to stay here. Harden reportedly doesn't think the Rockets are headed in the right direction and wants to play for a winner.

Russell Westbrook wants to be traded, too, but his eroding skills and crazy high salary, more than $40 million a year with three years left on his deal, make him a tough sell. A few years ago, Westbrook was MVP of the league, the first player to average a triple-double in half a century and first team All-NBA. Now he's (deep breath) a lousy shooter, not a team leader, a 3-point bricklayer, ball hog, bad in the clutch and slowing down. There are rumors that the Knicks, Clippers, Wizards and Hornets are possible trade partners for Westbrook. Yeah, we'll believe it when they announce it. And even then nothing's official until Woj tweets it.

The Rockets have a new head coach and new general manager, both of them first-timers in their new roles.

Rotation players are going, going, gone. Austin Rivers to the Knicks, Robert Covington to Portland and Jeff Green to the Nets. If Harden and Westbrook get traded, that would leave Eric Gordon, with his $16.8 million contract and declining talent, as the Rockets biggest star. Gordon reportedly was not happy with his playing time during the playoffs last season. Insiders say he's available in a trade, too.

Now Boogie Cousins enters the scene. Over/under on his next season-ending injury is Christmas Day.

To top it off, or bottom it out, there are reports that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta's feelings are hurt by Harden and Westbrook's desire to leave. You know, after all Fertitta has done for them.

Fertitta saying his feelings are hurt is like someone murdering his parents and then asking for sympathy because he's an orphan. He is the one who created this whole mess. It would be difficult to get equal value in return for Harden, one of the most unstoppable scorers in NBA history. After years of successfully courting superstars to Houston, big-name players are not interested, thank you.

As for Fertitta's hurt feelings, he's a billionaire – at least he plays one on TV (Billionaire Buyer on CNBC). Billionaires hire people to feel sad for them.

It's said that Fertitta really wanted to hire Jeff Van Gundy as the Rockets next coach, while Harden preferred Ty Lue. After Lue agreed to coach the Clippers, Fertitta settled on longtime assistant coach Stephen Silas as a peace offering to Harden.

That's not exactly rolling out the welcome wagon for Silas, who knows he wasn't his boss' first choice. That's like asking Cinnamon to the prom, and she later finds out that you asked Jade first. Besides, you're in high school, you're too young to be dating strippers.

We also hear that Harden is angry because Fertitta made a big-money donation to President Trump's re-election campaign. We don't know if Harden really feels that way, he's not a chatty fellow. But if it's true, it's understandable for Harden, and pretty stupid of Fertitta, especially doing it publicly. Most of Fertitta's players are African-American, not exactly Trump's base of support.

At the height of Andrew Dice Clay's popularity, a reporter asked Jay Leno why he didn't do misogynistic material like the Diceman. Leno said, women don't like that brand of humor, why would he want to alienate half of his potential audience? America is bitterly divided over politics in 2020. Donating to a polarizing candidate, on either side, doesn't make good business sense. In Houston, you risk alienating half of your ticket-buyers and 100 percent of your team's leading scorer.

According to ESPN, the Rockets are willing to play a waiting game with Harden, "prepared for it to get uncomfortable" – another horrible idea. While Harden is a baller who loves the game of basketball, and nobody doubts his desire, when someone wants to leave a team or a job or a relationship, it's best to let them go. Some players, not Harden, might go half-speed to avoid an injury that would wreck a trade opportunity. Or they become a distraction. Disgruntled employees aren't good employees. Right now, there doesn't seem to be many gruntled Rockets.

The NBA season starts in less than a month. The way it looks now, good seats will be available at Toyota Center – and not because of social distancing.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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