How the Rockets are counting on a lot of ifs this season

The new-look Rockets have a lot to prove. Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook out. John Wall in. The Rockets' Westbrook Era sure was brief. It was an entertaining failure. The team got worse, and the Rockets' return from the Washington Wizards for trading Westbrook to them is vastly less than what the Rockets gave to Oklahoma City to get him. On top of that, while Westbrook was brilliant for a couple of months early in 2020, Chris Paul was a better player in his one season with the Thunder than Westbrook was here.

In desiring the deal to D.C., Westbrook has admitted (without admitting it) that winning is not his highest priority. He wants to dominate the ball, The End. However, it's not as if he's foregoing a realistic championship run with the Rockets to go be the lead Wizard. Westbrook and James Harden may have been besties off the court, but their games/egos obviously didn't mesh well on the hardwood for each of their tastes. Paul lasted two seasons before Harden wanted him gone, Westbrook one. How long before Harden decides that Wall cramps his style? This given the non-secret that Harden already would love to become an ex-Rocket if he could get to Brooklyn or Philadelphia.

Westbrook's contract was pretty much untradeable except in exchange for another ridiculous contract or contracts. Wall's is essentially a carbon copy, three years left at about 133 million dollars. The Rockets are crossing their fingers that somehow Harden takes to Wall and has rejuvenated good feelings about staying, and that sign and trade acquisition Christian Wood lives up to high hopes pinned on him.

Wall last played in an NBA game December 26, 2018. Since then he's had one season ending heel surgery, and then a season costing Achilles tendon tear. At 30 Wall is two years younger than Westbrook, but that is worthless if he doesn't have back most of his speed and quickness. Pre-injuries Wall was as fast as Westbrook, but less forceful. Some might say less ball-hoggy. He's a better three point shooter than Westbrook, but who isn't? In his nine NBA seasons (the last two partial seasons) Wall has shot league average from three, once. He was not a good defender the last season or two before his major injuries.

If Harden doesn't have one foot and half his head out the door, and if Wall is healthy and 85 percent of what he was, and if DeMarcus Cousins is healthy, and if Wood is worthy of three years 41 mil, the Rockets should be pretty good. That's a lot of ifs. Regardless, the Lakers won't be shaking in their sneakers over this incarnation of Rocketball.

This is all another reminder that ex-General Manager Daryl Morey failed the smell test when he set forth wanting to step back and desire for family time as his reasons for leaving the Rockets. I don't blame him for wanting out to take the 76ers job, but am not a fan of BS.

The Colts come to NRG this Sunday

The 4-7 Texans are home Sunday versus the 7-4 Indianapolis Colts. Stifle that yawn! The Colts come to town off Derrick Henry and the Titans trampling them last Sunday. That in itself shouldn't spike local optimism because the Texans basically have no running game. The Colts also played without stud d-lineman DeForest Buckner who was out after a positive COVID test. Buckner's status for Sunday is undetermined.

The Texans are only three and a half point underdogs as they play without their best wide receiver (Will Fuller) and their best cornerback (Bradley Roby) after each flunked a PED test. Classic. That's one way for Fuller to finally get through an NFL season without a major injury.

College hoops

Sadly, college basketball isn't much of a thing around here. Doesn't change the facts that Baylor looks tremendous and is ranked number two in the nation. The Bears play number one Gonzaga Saturday at noon our time in Indianapolis. The Houston Cougars cracked the top 10 this week. The Texas Longhorns may crack the top 10 next week. SARCASM ALERT. It's a good thing UT is a hoops first fanbase or Longhorn fans might be really disgruntled with Tom Herman.

MLB free agency

Major League Baseball's winter meetings open (virtually) on Monday. Next week could be the week George Springer picks a new team. Ditto Michael Brantley. It's ridiculous that with free agency underway MLB still hasn't settled on whether the designated hitter sticks in the National League. That would almost certainly expand Brantley's market, and possibly Springer's as well.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. I wonder what Westbrook would have said if the Rockets asked him are you in if we trade Harden for Bradley Beal? Then, as a Rockets fan would you rather have Wall/Harden or Westbrook/Beal?

2. Did you know James Harden has a restaurant named "13" opening in town New Year's Day?

3. Harden restaurant questions: Bronze-Does the dessert menu offers a variety of turnovers? Silver-Think Harden has any idea who James Beard was? Gold-Suppose delivery range includes Brooklyn and Philadelphia?

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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