CHANGING OF THE GUARD?

Is the Texans' reign as kings of Houston sports coming to an end?

Is Bob McNair losing the city to the Astros? Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Fall of the Kingdom on Kirby

We are living in the midst of a regime change. An uprising has taken place, the ruling party is faltering, and some upstart rebels are storming the palace.

For 15 years now, the Texans have ruled the Houston sports landscape with unchecked power.  No matter their record or level of ineptitude they wore the crown because, well… this is Texas and they play football.  Maybe they didn’t fill the stadium every single week, especially in down years, but they were still the center of this city’s sports universe. So why am I speaking of them in the past tense?  The Astros, that’s why.

The Astros have shown us what a competent franchise looks like, finally bringing a major championship back to Houston for the first time in 22 years. Yes, they had some truly terrible seasons, but they had a plan throughout those rough times.  Now that the city knows what it’s like to have a winner the Texans’ seemingly unending leash has finally been yanked back.  What’s more is that the Astros are bursting with exciting, young, talented, and, most importantly, likable players.  I would argue the Texans have only two players that move the excitement needle, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson, both of whom are lost for the year and it remains to be seen in what form they return. Without them it is abundantly clear that this Texans team is just like those 100 loss Astros teams – nameless, faceless, and talentless -  though with one key difference, unlike those Astros teams the Texans have no discernible plan.

 In years past I would block out time to watch the Texans almost every week, no matter how bad they were.  This year though I haven’t.  And no, it has nothing to do the off the field issues the NFL is dealing with.  I really couldn’t care less about the anthem or Kaepernick BS.  My interest in football itself isn’t the problem, I still watch other NFL games, I just haven’t watched much of the Texans.  I watched a few games with Deshaun Watson and found him to be genuinely exciting but since his injury the most I watched of this team is about five minutes on Monday night before I turned on the Xbox to play Madden (again this isn’t an issue with football).  The World Series has played a huge role in the waning of Texans interest, and I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way.  After a month of riding the emotional roller coaster that was the playoffs with a team that was genuinely likable I just don’t see the point in devoting time or interest to yet another crap Texans team that simply isn’t.  Additionally, it feels as though the Astros fully embraced their role in the city’s recovery from Harvey and, notwithstanding the fantastic things J.J. Watt has done as an individual, the Texans as an organization have just carried on with business as usual (including getting blown out at home by the Jaguars in what was supposed to be their “we got you Houston” game).

With their success and youth the Astros have begun to both cultivate their own generation of young fans and re-convert old ones all while the Texans continue to give theirs little reason to care.  If this really is just the beginning of Astros’ success, as many believe it to be, this orange-clad rebel band will soon snatch the Houston sports crown from NRG, and once again make Houston a baseball town as it was in the '90s and early 2000s.   For the sake of sports in this city I hope this is the case.  Bob McNair and the Texans need a kick in the ass, need to be knocked down a peg, and need to be shown that just because they play football they don’t get a pass when it comes to doing what’s necessary to win, or even just to be interesting.

(And I didn't even mentioned the Rockets).

 

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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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