The Pallilog

NFL Draft gives us some sports, and the SEC dominates again

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We're into week seven of no meaningful athletic competition, so the arrival of the NFL Draft Thursday night was most welcome. Interest in it around here wasn't great given the Texans had no first round pick, but the first round is always a big deal and this year provided a few hours of hope toward having sporting events we lust to watch being back by September at the latest. I'd have much preferred NBA and NHL playoff games to watch.

The Texans have the eighth pick of the second round and Bill O'Brien could go a number of directions. Emperor O taking a guard would be justifiable, likewise wide receiver with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills both free agents after the 2020 season, but the defense is in need of a bigger boost. A defensive tackle, edge rusher, corner, or safety who fills draft cliché number one (best player available) should be able to make some impact as a rookie. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney might be the guy most expected to go in the first round who did not. Texas A&M defensive tackle Justin Madubuike would make sense if on the board for the Texans' pick at number 40.

For those who question whether the Southeastern Conference is overrated, stop. Nine of the first 15 selections were SEC guys. In all an amazing 15 of the 32 first round picks were SEC guys. LSU led the way with five. That's five more than the University of Texas which failed to produce a first rounder for the fifth year in a row. Going into Friday night UT produced just one second rounder in the last eight drafts.

In leading LSU to the National Championship against the toughest schedule any school has never negotiated its way through undefeated, Joe Burrow had the greatest passing season in the history of college football. 60 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Still, Burrow is not a "can't miss" prospect the way John Elway, Troy Aikman and Andrew Luck were as they entered the NFL. If Burrow goes on to greatness, the four guys taken behind him will have to collectively be great if they are to match the collective careers of the top five picks in the 1989 Draft. The second pick in '89 was epic steroid-created bust Tony Mandarich. But picks one, three, four and, five? All Hall of Famers. Aikman went first to the Cowboys, Barry Sanders third to the Lions, Derrick Thomas fourth to the Chiefs, and Deion Sanders fifth to the Falcons.

Wonder what Aaron Rodgers was thinking as he called it a night. The Green Bay Packers took an offensive player in the first round for the first time since 2011. Rather than help for Rodgers, the Pack tabbed his prospective successor in quarterback Jordan Love out of Utah State.


So weak of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to release his Red Sox investigation and punishment the day before the NFL Draft. The timing was not a coincidence. It was clearly designed to minimize coverage and blowback. Astropologists shouldn't go overboard in outrage at the relative wrist slap given the Bosox. At no point was there indication that the Red Sox' scheme was as extensive as the Astros' cheating. But for Manfred to completely exonerate Alex Cora of anything during his Boston tenure strains credulity to amazing levels.

Russell Westbrook told an amusing story during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week. When he was 10 or 11 Westbrook attended a Michael Jordan basketball camp in Santa Barbara not too far from Westbrook's California home. As the last day of camp was winding down, each team was allotted time to get an autograph from and picture with MJ. When Westbrook's team's turn came, he blew it off, to keep playing whatever game he was in at the time. When Russ got home his parents asked "Did you get your time with Michael?" Mom and Dad Westbrook had bought a basketball that he could get signed. Russ explained that he didn't because he'd kept playing instead. Then he cried over the opportunity lost. At least somewhat ironically two decades later, Westbrook gets Jordan autographs, on checks! He is an endorser of Nike's Jordan Brand.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. Playing them is one thing, but sitting through whole video baseball or basketball games being played? Can't do it. 2. Don't have to be desperate for sports content to find the Jordan/Bulls "The Last Dance" documentary riveting. 3. Best last dance songs: Bronze-Last Dance, Dua Lipa Silver-Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters Gold-Last Dance, Donna Summer. Of course.





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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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