Rockets fans should not be fooled by NBA trade "rumors"

Jimmy Butler and his advisors clearly manipulated their situation. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Here is a public service announcement for all Rockets fans as you await the start of the regular season. No matter how many times you read a "breaking news" trade rumor about your team, don't believe it unless you see it in an official press release. With cut down day approaching and teams being forced to release players that are veterans or have value across the NBA, you are going to hear tons of rumored trades and moves and almost all of them are untrue. Agents and general managers use writers, bloggers and social media as an effective tool in doing their job. If they get enough people talking about the tidbits and tips that they "secretly" give out, the fire storm that ensuses will create a towering inferno of results for their clients and teams.

You see, every agent has a few "go-to" writers, bloggers and media members that they have built a relationship with, that they will strategically slip secrets, information and leads to. General Managers have their allies as well and they use them as they see fit. Some of these media contacts are rewarded with exclusive interviews and access to the team and players if they play along and publish the information supplied to them. It's fast becoming one of the most lucrative moves in sports because of the results it can create and the positive outcomes that can be tied directly to the breaking news that started the entire chain of events.

Take the Jimmy Butler situation as an example. We all know by now what transpired late last week and how Butler's dramatic return to the team and his first practice sent NBA fans across the country reeling. Did it ever cross your mind that it was all a set up and carefully scripted plan to get Jimmy out of Minny and to another destination in the league that he no doubt wants to play for? Well take it for what it's worth, but if you thought it was purely coincidence that ESPN and Rachel Nichols just happened to be in Minneapolis for an exclusive one-on-one interview with Butler, I have some swamp land I'd like to sell you in Florida. On top of that, do you think the interview would have been must see TV and stir up as much conversation, if he had just put his head down, worked his butt off and finished practice without incident? No way! The whole thing was a ploy by Butler's camp to force the issue and get their client out of a bad situation. Since he still has a year left on his contract and risked losing money if he continued his hold out and stayed away from the team, he made an educated decision and carried out a plan to get the ball rolling on his mission to get shipped out of town.

As the week went on, we saw more rumors about the Timberwolves re-engaging the Rockets in talks, a possible Pat Riley profanity-laced conversation with Tom Thibodeau and more. This is what's known as a counter strike, where management tips off hand-selected members of the media to get the word out and create a story that will have traction and create publicity and conversation across the basketball world. In the process, it will also sound the alarm to the teams that were in deep trade discussions for Butler in the last week or so, that they will not be getting the franchise player that they had coveted. In most cases, the reaction to the hot, new rumor is a quick call to see if the shunned teams can make a last ditch, final offer that no doubt includes sweetening the pot from what was originally offered.

The take away for you is that you should never get too excited until a deal is official and reported as "done." Until then, the game of Cat and Mouse will continue and those of you that read or hear the rumors and take the time to spread the news are merely pawns in a bigger chess game being played by agents and front offices everywhere. So just sit back, relax and realize your team is ready to run it back as they pursue the always elusive Larry O'Brien trophy and it's a long season ahead. Rumors will continue to fly all the way to the trade deadline, so be cautious and be prepared.

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With the end of the regular season in sight, the Houston Astros host the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, coming off a huge walk-off 2-1 win against the Orioles.

Two players from the finale against Baltimore really stood out for the 'Stros. Jeremy Pena, who had a clutch double late in the game, and Cristian Javier.

Javier struck out 11 batters over 5 innings surrendering only one run, which was exactly what the Astros needed in possibly the most important game of the regular season.

Both Pena and Javier were critical pieces to the Astros title in 2022, and it looks like they're rounding into form at just the right time.

Javier's struggles have caused many to question who would be the team's third starter in the postseason, behind Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander. Let's put this to bed right now, it's Javier.

This should be everything you need to know. Let's start with Hunter Brown. Brown has given up 5 earned runs or more in 4 of his last 7 starts.

How about JP France? France has surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 3 of his last 5 games.

However, Cristian Javier hasn't allowed 5 or more runs in a start since July 3. Javier may only give you 5 innings, but that's actually pretty common for starters in the playoffs. Teams typically remove their starters before the third time through the order.

Prime Time Pena

While the power hasn't been there for Pena this year, he is swinging the bat much better of late. Over his last 30 games, he's hitting .325 while slugging .453. Pena may only have 10 bombs on the year, but he's getting on base and hitting plenty of doubles.

If these two can contribute at a similar level to last postseason, the sky is the limit for the 2023 Astros.

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