The Z Report

Lance Zierlein: Did the Texans really need to reward Bill O'Brien?

Bill O'Brien had some success with Deshaun Watson, but was that O'Brien or Watson? Getty Images

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. We learn that at an early age. Well, that’s not always true. Sometimes life is fair, but it certainly isn’t consistent - unless you work off of Kirby and Murworth.

The Texans consistently keep the roof closed even on the most beautiful days. Brian Cushing has been consistently collecting inflated paychecks for average play for quite some time now. There has been a consistent vagueness surrounding the responsibility of personnel decisions since the departure of Charlie Casserly.

The Texans consistently rewarded Rick Smith for fairly mediocre work and now the Texans are maintaining their own “consistent” modus operandi by offering Bill O’Brien a winner-sized contract extension despite coming off of a 4-12 season and having a year to go on his original deal.

Would you get a raise if you were a mail carrier who lost someone’s mail? Would you get a bonus if you were an accountant who came off of a year where several clients were audited? If your restaurant served four months of substandard meals, would Eric Sandler be spotlighting you as one of Houston’s best chefs on Culture Map?

A change was needed, but was this really a change?

In 2017, Bill O’Brien’s Texans lost your IRS check during mail delivery, got you audited and gave you food poisoning. Despite that, O’Brien was victorious in his power struggle over Rick Smith and was granted even greater control and a substantially longer leash. Rick had to go, but why extend Bill O’Brien?

Look, I think O’Brien has talent as an offensive coach. I recognize that he absolutely played a role in the early success of Deshaun Watson. O’Brien would text Watson during the summer with impromptu quizzes about the offense and his pre and post snap reads against particular defenses. Watson passed with flying colors.

One Texans player confided during camp that they were already installing elements of an offense that was designed specifically with Watson in mind. O’Brien wasn’t bending his rookie signal-caller to his will and to the will of his notoriously complicated passing scheme. Instead, he was fitting an offense around the strengths of his quarterback. That may sound elementary, but it’s not always common in league circles.

So while I acknowledge that I’m a fan of O'Brien's offensive mind and the work he did with his quarterback, has he done enough over his four year body of work to earn an extension rather than playing out the last year of the deal? In essence, the Texans have given him the keys to the organization based on a six week run with Deshaun Watson.

Keep in mind that Watson is the same guy who was three time State Player of the Year in Georgia, was a national championship winning quarterback who hung over 400 yards of total offense in back-to-back title games against an Alabama defense that was loaded with early round draft picks, and threw for 19 touchdowns in 7 games while leading the offense to 30-plus points per game in five of his six starts.

Maybe it was the player?

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney tried to tell everyone that Deshaun Watson was the next Michael Jordan. We laughed. Maybe those high school accomplishments and awards, the mind-blowing national championship games, and the spectacular seven game sample size with the Texans had more to do with Watson than any of his coaches.

If that’s the case, McNair didn’t need to be so worried about losing Bill O’Brien. Based on what I’ve seen, O’Brien needs Watson much more than Watson needs O’Brien…. or any one coach for that matter. Let’s hope the combination of Bill O’Brien and new general manager Brian Gaine can put together a more athletic and cohesive roster than the ones Rick Smith put together that “consistently” underwhelmed over the long haul.

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The Rockets got a steal at No. 3 overall. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

With the Astros absorbing their worst loss of the season Thursday night at the Yankees, here's to the Rockets! Wait, what? It's only educated guess work, but in landing Jabari Smith out of Auburn the Rockets had a spectacular night. Heaven knows they have had very few of those the last two years. After having to settle for the third pick in the NBA Draft despite being the worst team in the league again, in Smith the Rockets got the best player in the Draft. Of course Smith could be an epic flop, it’s very inexact science. But Orlando taking Paolo Banchero from Duke first then Oklahoma City selecting Gonzaga beanpole Chet Holmgren second left the "surest thing" two-way player on the board. Through most of the run-up to the draft the six-foot-10 inch Banchero was most commonly projected to the Rockets. It's not as if he would have been a bad choice as a player. Banchero certainly could turn out to be the best player in this draft class. But his game is skewed toward his offensive skills, his fit in Houston would have been quite questionable. The also 6-10 Smith has shown the vastly better outside shooting ability, and is indisputably more athletic and better equipped to defend at a higher level and with more versatility. Jabari Smith is not going to be Kevin Durant or Kevin Garnett. Let's at least call it extreeeeemely unlikely given very few in the history of the planet come close to those guys, still, envisioning Smith providing some KD and KG level moments on both ends of the floor is pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The Rockets' defense was an absolute joke last season. Little to no improvement was shown as the death march of 2021-22 dragged on and on and on to its 20-62 finish. Frankly if Head Coach Stephen Silas can't demand/develop vastly improved D this coming season he'll deserve and need to be fired. The Rockets love Alperen Sengun, and his rookie season offense showed both flair and promise. Defensively he was one of many parts of the joke. Just 20 years old late next month so some improvement should come, but Sengun is slow. Quick twitch muscles, slow. Lateral movement, slow. He’s not long, not a leaper, not thick. Sengun will be hard-pressed to become an average defender. In today's game he's the kind of big who quality small-ball opponents play off the court. Banchero would have been a lousy defensive pairing with Sengun. Smith-Sengun has a chance. Smith as a small-ball center has potential. Christian Wood was a dog, not in a good way. Smith’s character grades are very high.

The seven-foot 194 pound Holmgren has a fascinating array of skills. He could be Rudy Gobert defensively with way better offense, or a skinny guy who can’t hack it physically. Had the Thunder taken Smith at two, Holmgren to the Rockets would have been interesting. Getting Smith to pair with Jalen Green as the tent poles of the Rockets’ still long way to go reconstruction is more encouraging. With due respect to all the other first round picks added in 2021 and 2022, what Green and Smith become individually and as a tandem is what will foremost determine how long the Rockets remain horrible. It could go pretty well for the duo and the Rockets could still be awful for multiple more years. A third consecutive losing season is virtual certainty. By the end of it though at least a few meaningful rays of light at the end of the tunnel need to be peeking through.

As for the other two first rounders added Thursday night, both are interesting darts at the board. Tari Eason out of LSU brings defensive chops and size (six-foot-eight) for his position, a combo that exactly zero returning Rockets have. Jae’Sean Tate plays really hard, but he’s a six-four forward. All their Josh Christophers, Garrison Matthewses, Kenyon Martin Jrs., and David Nwabas add up to very little.

No one smart really believes in Kevin Porter Jr. as a long term winning point guard growth stock. TyTy Washington should get some rookie run at the point. He’s the only non-worthless to the team ex-Kentucky point guard on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, John Wall and his 47.3 million dollar salary are still on the roster.

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