END OF AN ERA?

Here's why trading James Harden might be best for everybody

The time may have come to trade James Harden. Composite image by Jack Brame

Was it something Houston said? In the past week, J.J. Watt, the greatest football player in Houston Texans history, made it perfectly clear that he'd rather play his home games elsewhere, preferably with a team contending for a Super Bowl.

At the same time, while the Rockets swear no, chatter persists that James Harden, the No. 1-a (with Hakeem Olajuwon) basketball player in Houston history, may be available in a trade if the price is right.

You know, maybe the Rockets should do it. The Beard has played eight seasons in Houston producing three scoring titles and one MVP, more than $100 million in salary, a $200 million shoe contract, but no Western Conference titles and not a sniff of the NBA Finals.

As a distinguished medical expert once suggested taking a drug proved ineffective against coronavirus … what the hell do you have to lose?

Next season will be a new start for the Rockets, with a new coach, new general manager and possibly a new style of offense. Sure Houston fans get off on James Harden's iso dribble-dribble-dribble 3-pointers and free throw shooting contest, but around the league, fans are falling asleep or clicking the remote.

How about a trade, Harden for 76'ers point guard Ben Simmons and a bunch of first-round draft picks? Sure, that'd be trading one of the most prolific 3-point bombers for someone who's shooting range is "dunk and closer" (a tip of the hat to Charlie Pallilo).

Having Simmons join Russell Westbrook in the Rockets backcourt might be the worst 3-point shooting tandem but a marketing dream. Bill Worrell: "That last shot was brought to you by Acme Brick, 5020 Acorn Street in Houston."

Harden-Simmons isn't only a possible NBA trade, it's a misspelled D3 college in Abilene (Hardin-Simmons).

The Rockets scheme of acquiring superstars (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard) to pair with Harden hasn't worked. And Harden is on the dirty side of 30. So, yeah, what the hell do they have to lose by trading him?

There happens to be a lovestruck Harden fan in the City of Brotherly Love, former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose desire of spending more time with his family lasted about two weeks. I had the over/under at three days. Ask anybody who works at home these days.

In his farewell to Houston, Morey wrote: "James Harden changed my life. He not only transformed my life but also revolutionized the game of basketball, and continues to do so, like almost no one has before. The game is played differently because of James, and on every playground in the world, the next generation of talent is studying and imitating his game."

Hey, why don't you two get a room? I've seen less romantic Valentine's cards.

Obviously Morey would love to angle a trade for Harden. First, Harden would provide an outside scoring threat to go along with All-Star center Joel Embiid. Perhaps more important, it's only human nature to want to stick it to your former employer. How's that saying go? Hell hath no fury like a general manager scorned.

Here's something the Philadelphia welcome wagon might use to entice Harden: according to Yelp, the Top 5 strip clubs in Philly are Club Risque, Delilah's, Pleasure Garden, Cheerleaders and Cheeks Lounge.

Cheeks Lounge … hilarious.

It's not like the Rockets, as is, will be favorites to win the Western Conference next year. First clue: LeBron James plays in that conference. King James' teams have won their conference nine of the past 10 years. The only year that James' team didn't get to the NBA Finals was 2019, when James was injured and played a career-low 55 games. Also, the Golden State Warriors will have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back, plus they have the No. 2 draft pick.

That's tough sledding for the Rockets, with or without Harden. Without might be best for everybody.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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