The Z Report

Lance Zierlein: Luhnow is hoping for his own Tyreek Hill ending

Jeff Luhnow is facing a lot of questions over his latest trade. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Well, you wanted a closer to help round out the Houston Astros chances at repeating as a World Series champion. Hell, I wanted a closer too. I wanted one badly! Now we got one. Somehow, this isn’t what I had in mind.

The Astros decided to cash-in their goodwill within the community and trade for a talented, yet troubled closer from the Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna. Twitter and sports talk radio is full of opinions regarding Osuna and the Astros decision to add him after serving a 75-game suspension for domestic abuse, but where will everyone stand in October?

When the Chiefs drafted Tyreek

All of us have seen how this could end up playing out. We saw it in May of 2016 when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted wideout Tyreek Hill from West Alabama in the fifth round. Hill had been a running back at Oklahoma State but was dismissed from the school after being charged with domestic abuse and later plead guilty to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend and received three years of probation. Hill eventually landed at West Alabama.

I was on the set of NFL Now’s broadcast of the 2016 NFL Draft and I was visibly dumbfounded that Hill was actually drafted by an NFL team. I simply couldn’t hide it. I didn’t think there was any chance that he would be drafted considering his guilty plea of such heinous charges. Chiefs fans weren’t too crazy about it either. Here is a sampling of some of the things were said on the comment section of Hill’s draft profile:

Homework, time and talent

An executive from a separate AFC team told me they loved Hill’s talent and did their homework and believed that Hill might have beat the case, but that financial concerns over legal fees and fear of jail time caused him to plea out. However, pleading guilty to abusing a pregnant woman was just something they were not prepared to defend to their fans and media so they took Hill off the board.

The Chiefs did their own investigating and they believed that Hill was worth taking a chance on. He had elite speed, immense talent and they ultimately believed in the person. Despite the initial anger from fans and scrutiny of media, Kansas City was repaid with a rookie season that included twelve touchdowns combined (6 receiving, 3 rushing, 2  kick returns, 1 punt return) and a first team All-Pro designation.

After two years in the league, Hill is a two-time Pro Bowler and beloved by Chiefs fans. Chants of “Ty-Reek, Ty-Reek, Ty-Reek” rang through the Arrowhead stadium, Hill’s rookie season as the Chiefs clinched their first division title since 2010.

The Astros, like the Chiefs in 2016, are banking on their homework, the talent and time. There is no way the Astros haven’t done their homework on Osuna. Anything negative that comes out beyond this point is going to be extremely damning, but the Astros must believe they can fade it. They are getting a very talented player for a very modest price and history tells us that over time talented players who perform at a high level are shown forgiveness - especially by the local fanbase.

Paradigm shift for Luhnow and Astros?

I’m not here to argue whether or not the Astros decision to trade for Osuna is right or wrong. To be honest, the details of what went down haven’t been made public and the courts haven’t weight in just yet. What I can work off of, however, is that Major League Baseball suspended Osuan for 75 games and there was no appeal. Maintaining an adherence to “innocent until proven guilty” is challenging for all of us with that such a harsh suspension levied against Osuna.

As stated prior, I believe you will see fan anger over Osuna subside if he’s able to get guys out. It will also help his cause if the team starts winning and gets hot going into the playoffs. Is it right that our attitudes are tied to winning? Of course not, but that’s the way it is. Fight it if you want, but you’ll always find that few people show up at your meetings.

Then again, if Osuna struggles to find his form after sitting out for much of this season, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow will find himself in the crosshairs of a portion of the fanbase. This is the kind of move that can help remove the cloak of invincibility that he deserved to wear after building the Astros into a World Series winner.

The national media is going to stay on the Astros for using their ridiculous “zero tolerance” comment at the same time they traded for a player serving a substantial suspension for domestic violence. I still don’t understand why Luhnow would make such a potentially risky move  when there were other arms out there. My guess is that he simply couldn’t pass up on the perceived value.

The Astros have a great clubhouse and appear to love each other like brothers. It will be interesting to see how Osuna fits in with this tightly-knit crew. I guess time will tell whether Osuna is the next Tyreek Hill or if he becomes the player and the trade that caused Astros fans to fall out of love with this general manager.


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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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