NBA Draft

Rockets' window may be closing faster after Tuesday's lottery

Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Divisions in basketball are seemingly pointless.

Just three years ago, winning your division would lock you into an automatic top four seed in the playoffs. Now there's an argument to be made about a concept like this being developed in times where near instantaneous cross country travel wasn't accessible or financially practical. I get it.

Those days are long gone, however, and so too is the necessity of divisions in basketball. Now the playoffs are rightfully seeded simply by record and conference, and the purpose of divisions seems only to benefit lazy schedulers.

That's right. The only aspect of a division in basketball these days that contains any shred of relevancy is the fact that divisional teams are guaranteed to face each other four times a season.

The southwest division consists of the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and the New Orleans Pelicans. Outside of San Antonio, the divisional alignment has been a boon for the Rockets' recent championship ambitions. Since 2016-2017 Houston is 32-16 against the southwest division, due largely in part to their counterparts tanking (Dallas), rebuilding (Memphis), or simply mismanaging (New Orleans). The advantage Houston holds at the moment looks like it may become a significant roadblock in the not too distant future, however.

Tuesday night, the NBA conducted it's annual lottery designed to somewhat randomly assign picks for the upcoming NBA draft. Just one year removed from receiving the fourth overall pick, Memphis walked into their front office with task of deciding on the second overall pick. And as for the number one pick? New Orleans came away with the rights of first refusal in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes.

Zion Williamson. One of the most highly touted NBA prospects in the past decade is almost certainly headed to The Big Easy. He's a 6' 7", 275 pound defensive end of a forward that can jump out of the building. He's an 18 year old kid so highly anticipated that he affected Nike's stock price when one of their shoes blew out underneath him. He's the one singular player I've gone out of my way to tune into a non-tournament related college basketball game to watch in probably 9 years. That Zion Williamson. Assuming New Orleans doesn't Sam Bowie this pick, the Rockets will have maybe two years before this kid--along with whatever haul the Pelicans receive for Anthony Davis' all but imminent departure--becomes a real pain in their neck.

Meanwhile Memphis will wait and most likely select Mike Conley's heir apparent, Ja Morant. Capable of driving to the hoop and finding the open teammate, Morant had established himself a consensus top five pick before the perfect situation landed in front of him. Morant should slot in perfectly next to last year's home run of a pick in forward Jaren Jackson Jr. It didn't take long for the aging Conley and Marc Gasol tandem to be replaced with what could soon be an even more potent duo.

And while Memphis and New Orleans were the big winners Tuesday night, it was Dallas around this time a year ago that began to set a course for their own resurgence. In a draft day pick flip with Atlanta, the Mavericks cashed in all of their tanking chips and acquired Luka Doncic, a 6' 7" European forward that morphed into what should soon be a unanimously declared Rookie of the Year winner within the next few weeks. Doncic is already a star after a year in the league, and halfway through the season Dallas found him a running mate by trading for the 23 year old phenom Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis has yet to take the court with Doncic yet due to injury, but if the 7' 3" sharp shooting Latvian nicknamed "The Unicorn" can return and stay healthy, the Mavericks could cause a lot of teams problems as early as next year.

Houston, despite their recent playoff failings, remains the team to beat in the Southwest division. If you're wondering when the Rockets are picking in the draft, I'll save you some time. They aren't. Houston shipped their 2019 picks off with bad contracts to avoid the luxury tax and maintain an elite team. Houston isn't in "develop talent" mode. They're in "all-in championship," with an window of at best two more years as the team is currently constructed.

After that all bets are off. By then Houston's starting five outside of Harden and Capela will have aged into irrelevancy, as they stare down three young, talented-loaded rosters alongside the ever-unrelenting Spurs. Suddenly those obligatory 16 cakewalk divisional matchups no longer seem so surefire. This will be the upcoming landscape the Rockets will have to navigate, and it doesn't look easy.

The Houston Rockets are in win now mode for plenty of reasons, and Tuesday night gave them one more. Win now, because winning later could be much harder.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

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