THE PALLILOG

Let's breakdown the Astros roster because we have actual games starting Saturday

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

After the Astros' offseason of shame and blame and firings and hirings, finally some actual baseball games! Okay, games with meaningless outcomes, but one way to move past almost Astros related conversation revolving around their cheating ways. Things could have been wild this weekend had the Washington Nationals not stormed Minute Maid Park to win the World Series four months ago. The Astros and Nats open the spring training game schedule Saturday and Sunday with a pair at the complex the two share in West Palm Beach.

Counting a couple of days with split squad games, the Astros play 31 practice games in Florida. With the more relaxed atmosphere of fun in the sun and the games not counting, you'd think opposing team fan heckling of the Astros shouldn't be too bad. The Astros' Grapefruit League schedule does not include the Yankees or Dodgers. The Yankees are on the other side of Florida, the Dodgers are in Arizona.

On the field the Astros have fewer concerns than most teams. Behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke the starting rotation is all question marks, but the candidate pool is deep enough to yield at least halfway decent answers. At least given all the run support that is likely.

The everyday lineup is essentially set, and still loaded. The only notable spring storyline is whether long heralded prospect Kyle Tucker wins the primary right field job. Tucker turned 23 years old last month. An overwhelmingly high percentage of great hitters in Major League history are established in the bigs no older than 23. Tucker isn't handed the job, because the Astros could not dump the final year and 13 million dollars of Josh Reddick's contract. They would literally have given him away had there been a taker. No taker. Reddick turned 33 on Wednesday. He was a bad player last season, so unless he has a salary drive bounce back of a season, Tucker is a huge disappointment if the primary right field job doesn't wind up his.

Don't be an Astropologist. The Astros blatantly, brazenly, and arrogantly cheated. It impacted games. How often and how substantially, open to debate. But it impacted games. If it had no impact on games, then the Astros and those complicit were the biggest band of morons in baseball history for going on with the scheme as long as they did. Besides, ineffectual cheating is still cheating.

All those whining about NY and LA and national media piling on. Stop. That just makes the whiners, and Houston, look provincially small. As if had the Yankees and/or Dodgers been nailed for cheating at the Astros' expense the same people now saying "Leave the Astros alone!" or "A bunch of other teams were doing it too!" wouldn't be screaming holy hell that "The Astros were robbed!" "Hang the Yankees in the town square!"

If you don't want the time, don't do the crime. The Astros did the crime. It's still their time to deal with the fallout. They and Astros fans, don't enforceably get to say, make it stop! If you're thinking, ok, ok, you're right but enough already! Understood. The furor will subside. But if your kid screws up he or she doesn't get to decide when he or she is no longer grounded.

It's still a fresh story. There have been no games to talk about yet, no player performances to criticize, no manager's decisions to second guess. That time is coming. As will be a bunch of wins for the 2020 Astros.

Huge game for the Rockets Saturday night at Utah. The Rockets running fifth in the Western Conference, behind the fourth place Jazz by two in the loss column. The season series rides on Saturday's outcome. It would be a massive win for the Rockets. With a loss, it's not a stretch to say they'd be unlikely to have home court advantage for even the first round of the playoffs.

Rockets add DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green

Again this season the Rockets shopped the buyout bargain bin to fill out their roster for the stretch run. Last season they added Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, two guys who gave them next to nothing in the playoffs. This year's contestants are 33 year old DeMarre Carroll and 33 year old Jeff Green. Carroll had fallen out of the rotation of a bad Spurs team, the Jazz released Green before Christmas. The Lakers and Clippers are not quivering.

Buzzer Beaters: 1. Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the USA "Miracle on Ice" win over the USSR at the Lake Placid Olympics. No sporting event can ever plausibly spark American patriotic fervor the way that game and subsequent winning of the gold medal did. 2. $80 plus taxes and "fees" to watch Fury-Wilder II Saturday night? No thanks. Could be a heckuva fight though. 3. Most memorable fights I watched live: Bronze-Tyson/Holyfield II, the ear bite fight. Silver-Alexis Arguello/Aaron Pryor 1982 Gold-Marvelous Marvin Hagler/Tommy Hearns 1985. If never seen, absolutely watch on YouTube. Eight plus minutes of Oh My Goodness!

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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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