THE PALLILOG

Let's discuss one definite win from the James Harden trade

So…any sports fodder around here this week?

Andre Johnson Twitteviscerates Cal McNair, Jack Easterby, and the Texans' organization.

Deshaun Watson is fed up with said organization.

James Harden's dismissal of the Rockets as not good enough and unfixable forces them to fast-forward to the endgame and trade him.

The above kind of pushes the Astros signing relief pitcher Pedro Baez down the pecking order.

Johnson unloading was especially "Wow!" inducing given his mostly reserved nature. Not to mention (silly expression right? Anytime someone says "not to mention" they then mention!) he is a "Texans Ambassador" and the only player thus far in the Texans' Ring of Honor.

No one likes being told what to do. Billionaires definitely don't. Who knows whether Cal McNair is seething, embarrassed, or other in response to Johnson's dropped bomb that indirectly called Jack Easterby a cancer in the organization, and Cal pathetic. Whatever Easterby has manipulated, fallen into, or earned, Svengali Jack is a mere few grains of sand on the beach compared to Deshaun Watson in organizational importance. So if Cal can stomach what will appear as bowing to the wishes of Johnson, Watson, and many others, Easterby should be on borrowed time. Frankly, Watson should have had nothing to do with the GM search, but if otherwise was pledged to him we can't find a big enough red nose to put on the face of the Texans' current clown show.

Fences can be mended with Watson, he's not going to retire. The head coach search finish line Nick Caserio gets to will be veerrrrry interesting.

A new era of Rockets basketball

Under the circumstances rookie Rockets' General Manager Rafael Stone did a fine job in netting the draft pick return he did from Brooklyn. However, the Rockets upside from the deal is all speculative and multiple years down the line. In the near term the Rockets are likely relegated to NBA non-factor status. Not what Steven Silas was hoping for when he took the Rockets' head coaching position. No pity party necessary though. It's one of just 30 jobs of its kind and even though hired on the relative cheap Silas is being paid much better than at any of the assistant coach posts he held over the last 20 years.

An under-the-radar win for Houston

The only definite Rocket win in this is Tilman Fertitta again has the payroll below the NBA luxury tax threshold. Not a coincidence. Before the trade the Rockets were a few million dollars into tax territory which would have cost roughly a dollar for each dollar above $132,627,000 (numbers will be adjusted for the NBA's plunging revenue). As a non-taxpayer the Rockets save the tax dollars, the cash saved not going to salaries, aaaaaand, Fertitta will get a check for a share of the money paid into the tax pool, a check that will be for several million dollars. The last two seasons the Rockets hurt their contender chances by going cheap on their bench to avoid the tax. This season they weren't a contender with Harden and certainly won't be without him, so avoiding the tax is sensible business.

As for Harden, we'll see how his ego and ball dominant desires mesh with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets certainly now have the far and away gifted offensive threesome in the league. If Kyrie deigns to rejoin the squad anyway.

Harden may have no idea who Machiavelli was, but he grades an A for his Machiavelli-ness. Harden's means to the end he sought included unprofessionalism, irresponsibility, and childishness. Bludgeoning him for HOW he got what he wanted is legit. Bludgeoning him for WHAT he wanted is at least in part sanctimonious. It's easy to get up in arms and call the guy a bailing out bum when it's you he's leaving. The Rockets got Tracy McGrady after he demanded a trade from Orlando, Charles Barkley after he demanded a trade from Phoenix, and Clyde Drexler after he demanded a trade from Portland.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Baez is a solid addition to the Astro bullpen. But note his career ERA at Dodger Stadium is 1.80. Everywhere else: 4.45.

2. As big a circus as the Texans are at the moment, they have never been a perennial or even several year joke of a franchise. Their last back-to-back losing seasons? 2005 and 2006. Of course 2021 may force an update.

3. James Harden's most epic elimination game playoff flops:

Bronze-2015 Western Conference Finals Game 5 at Golden State: 14 points on 2-13 FG, 0-3 on 3s, with NBA playoff record tying 12 turnovers. Fact: Harden was actually originally credited with a record breaking 13 turnovers. One was not really his turnover. I alerted the league, and it was changed. I'm such a homer!

Silver-2018 Western Conference Finals Game 7 vs. Warriors: Scored 32 points, but collapsed with whole team in second half, finished 2-13 on 3s (0 for last 11).

Gold-2017 Western Conference Semifinal Game 6 vs. Spurs: 10 points. 2-11 FG, 2-9 from 3. Rockets lose at home by 39. Thirty freaking nine! To a Spurs team minus an injured Kawhi Leonard.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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