ROCKETS REBUILD

Here's why the Rockets next move must start with this critical first step

The team is reportedly interested in dealing Wood. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Last Saturday night, at halftime of another Rockets blowout loss, guard Kevin Porter Jr. decided that was an excellent time to throw a temper tantrum and get into a shouting match with respected Rockets assistant coach John Lucas. Porter Jr. left the arena at halftime and went home. We don’t know if he took his ball with him.

Earlier that New Year’s Eve, forward Christian Wood missed a mandatory Covid testing window, showed up late for warmups, was taken out of the starting lineup, scored no points in eight minutes in the first half and later refused to sub into the game. The Rockets lost, 124-111, to the Denver Nuggets at home in Toyota Center.

Yeah, this was exactly what head coach Stephen Silas and the plummeting Rockets, owners of the worst record in the NBA's Western Conference, in the throes of a seven-game losing streak, needed. Silas promptly suspended the two idiot players for the next game Monday night, which turned out to be another lopsided loss, 133-113, to the Philadelphia 76’ers.

What were Porter Jr. and Wood possibly thinking? These bad actors aren’t veteran superstars who wield power with the owner and can get a coach fired. In fact, in Porter Jr.’s case, he couldn’t have picked a worse coach to mess with. Lucas is respected by the NBA universe. He’s a hard-ass, no-nonsense figure. He reportedly laid into several Rockets players, including Porter Jr. and Wood at halftime, after the Rockets gave up 47 points in the second quarter.

Porter Jr., 21, was a first-round draft pick (No. 30) by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019. He promptly was traded to Cleveland and was suspended during his rookie season for making contact with an official. The following year, he was arrested on a weapons charge, which was later dropped. Last year, after Porter Jr. threw a locker room tantrum, the Cavs announced they would either trade Porter Jr. or release him. The Rockets acquired him for a future second-round pick.

Wood, 26, went undrafted in 2015. He has played for six teams during his six years in the NBA, with a few visits to the G League along the way. He has a reputation for being pouty and moody. Earlier this year, the Rockets were rumored to be offering Wood in a trade.

According to media reports, the Rockets intend to keep Porter Jr. and deal with his anger issues. The team is interested in dealing Wood, despite his trade value diminished by this latest episode.

It’s time for Silas and the coaching staff to take charge and lock down the locker room. That’s the first step toward respectability. Because right now, this team is a rudderless clown show and Silas’ nice guy personality isn’t offering any promise of a brighter future.

Lucas is just the guy to play bad cop. To be honest, I’m scared of Lucas and he’s not even the boss of me.

I have history with John Lucas. Several years ago, I played in a media doubles tennis tournament. During one round, a local newscaster, it might have been Linda Lorelle, and I played Lucas and his partner. Lucas hit a kick serve at me that burrowed into the clay court then bounced over my head wide right. I had never seen a serve like that. It defied physics. I jumped at the ball and swung and whiffed. I was embarrassed and awestruck at the same time.

In addition to being an All-American basketball player at Maryland and the NBA’s overall first draft pick in 1976, Lucas was an All-American tennis player and two-time ACC singles champion. He played pro tennis for two years before focusing only on basketball.

Several years later, I finally exacted my revenge against Lucas on a tennis court. Charlie Pallilo and I had reserved the court at Judson Park in West University Place. When we got there, we found Lucas playing former Top 10 women’s pro Lori McNeil, who made the semifinals at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Pallilo and I looked at each other. What do we do? I said, “Charlie, I have no problem doing this.” I walked on the court and told Lucas, “You’re one of my favorite players, although I hated what you did against the Knicks. You’re a great coach, I admire what you do educating players about substance abuse, and my kid attends your summer basketball camp in Houston. He kind of worships you. But I have the court reserved so you have to leave.”

Lucas looked at me like “seriously?” I said “seriously.” I think that was the only time I ever impressed Pallilo.

Forward to about six months ago. A friend and I were having lunch at Cleburne Cafeteria on Bissonnet Street. Lucas walked in, noticed me, and came over to my table. He told my friend, “I was once playing tennis with Lori McNeil and this guy kicked me off the court.” Then he turned and kept walking.

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The Houston Texans seem to be focused on repairing their image. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

"It's a new day, yes it is!" That's how the theme song from one of my all time favorite wrestling tag teams/groups starts. One of my favorite lines says "Can't change the past/Gotta let it unfold." If this doesn't apply to the 2022 Houston Texans, I don't know what does.

Over the last few years, the Texans have been a laughingstock. From a comedy of errors under Bill O'Brien, to Cal McNair's reputation as Tommy Boy, Jack Easterby was once thought to be some sort of Boogeyman, to the fans finally having had enough and fighting back with their wallets. Things haven't been smooth sailing on Kirby Drive. It started to look like a never-ending rainy day for a while. Then it happened. Nick Caserio came in riding his white horse and the weather started clearing up.

Initially, some were still skeptical, yours truly included. We had every right to feel that way. He was yet another in a line from New England. "Patriots South" was beginning to look like a real thing, even though Cal denied it. Before he could get settled, his franchise quarterback wanted out and was also found out to be an alleged pervert. That's when Caserio started to push all the right buttons.

Some people thrive under pressure. Some crumble worse than a dry ass Popeye's biscuit. Caserio is one of the ones that has managed to make coals into diamonds. Armed with a bad cap situation, devoid of draft picks in his first draft, a talented QB who wants out, and an owner trying his best to do the right things, he navigated it all masterfully so far. He traded Watson for a nice haul and used those picks in this past draft to address some concerns. Knowing the QB talent was better in the upcoming draft, he's giving Davis Mills an opportunity to show what he's got. Their collective appearance on The Pat McAfee Show recently was to show the national media something we here in Houston see every day: there are new faces of this franchise, and it's headed in the right direction.

While Mills still has to prove he can be the franchise QB, Caserio has done a good job of putting talent around him to place him in a position to succeed. If Mills is a hit, the team can use the draft capital to improve other areas of the team, and Caserio has another feather in his cap. If Mill isn't "the guy", the team will draft one of the top prospects and move on. Third round QBs that don't work out aren't seen as failures per se because expectations aren't as high. However, I believe Mills' floor is a career backup and he still holds value even if he isn't seen as a starter. Besides, who wouldn't want a guy who went to Stanford in the QB room?

Easterby has faded into the background after being thrust into the spotlight. He seems to have been thrown in the ring with a grizzly bear and come out unscathed. Lots of us were wrong about him. I now believe he was forced into a situation he wasn't prepared for, made the best he could out of it, and is now settling back into the role he originally sought out, which is the owner's right-hand man and a team/player development type of guy.

The person who deserves just as much, if not more, credit than Caserio is Cal. He went from Tommy Boy to Boss Hog in the matter of a year or so. The story of him playing video games sitting on the floor of his office fed into the perception of him being a doofus. Now, he's literally kissing babies, handing out shorts, and grilling for the fans. He's been seen at the forefront of food/water drives, as well as being very visible and accessible to fans at training camp.

These are the new faces of this franchise moving forward. Look for newer players to take some of their places when their play starts to equal wins for this team. "Get us back on the right road/On the right track/On the right flow (That’s right)/Live in the future that we all know."

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