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 dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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