The Pallilog

Texans have work to do in free agency

Kevin Johnson (right) was released by the Texans. Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

The bell rings to start NFL free agency Wednesday at 3 p.m. Central Time. Among the 32 teams the Texans enter the weekend with the fifth most salary cap space. Having more than $60 million dollars to spend doesn't mean the Texans can fill all their needs.

They better be aggressive after an offensive tackle and a cornerback. Ideally this offseason they add two quality starters of each. With their first round pick (#23) and two second rounders (picks 54 and 55 overall) this year they should nab at least one at each spot. In free agency, Trent Brown would seem to be one sensible tackle target. The largest player (about 6'8" 370!) in the NFL is good, only 26 years old starting next season, and adding him would also be subtracting from the Patriots. But it's fair to wonder how much better Brown is with superior Patriots coaching and in Tom Brady's quick pass offense than he would be as a Texan. The cornerback pickings are slim. ESPN's free agent rankings have Kevin Johnson as the third best corner available. The same first round draft pick bust Kevin Johnson the Texans cut this week, freeing up another nine million bucks in cap room. Pierre Desir would seem a worthy pursuit. A la Brown from New England, adding the 28 year old Desir would be the Colts' loss.

General Manager Brian Gaine's first crack at free agency a year ago produced a mixed bag. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was solid on his one year contract, corner Aaron Colvin a huge flop in the first season of his four year deal. Among the offensive linemen signed Zach Fulton was OK, Senio Kelemete middling at best, Seantrel Henderson was a question mark lost opening day to a broken ankle.

Franchise-tagged free agents hardly ever get offers from other teams, the cost being a huge contract and two first round draft picks. The Colts have the most cap space in the league. Landing Jadeveon Clowney would be a substantial boost to their rising defense, and a huge blow to the Texans. The Colts could make a massive offer to Clowney they're comfortable with, forcing the Texans to spend more to keep him. If the Texans found a Colts' offer too pricey, the alternative to matching is taking the Colts first rounder this year (26th pick) and first rounder next year.

Big game coming

The 12th ranked Houston Cougars are 28-2 as they head for a Sunday showdown at Cincinnati. With the Bearcats loss at Central Florida Thursday night (the same UCF that won at the Fertitta Center last Saturday), UH has clinched at least a share of a conference championship for the first time since it won the Southwest Conference in 1992. Not one SWC team cracked the top 25 at any point during that season. Sunday should be ferociously contested. The Coogs take aim at an outright league title. The Bearcats earn a share of the crown with a win. In the season's first meeting at the Fertitta Center, UH pitched a shutout over the last six minutes and won by seven. The Cats have won 16 straight at home, and in their last 51 home games are 49-2.

Tearing it up

Wednesday night LeBron James went past Michael Jordan for fourth place on the all-time scoring list. 32,311 points. LeBron up to fourth came the night after James Harden became the 73rd player in NBA history to reach 18,000 points. Which makes one think, how high on the scoring list will Harden climb? Barring an injury that knocks him out for several games, before this season is over Harden will vault into the top 70, passing Hall of Famers Tracy McGrady, Dave Bing, Rick Barry and Dr. J.-Julius Erving.

This summer Harden turns 30. While I'm generally a never say never guy, there is basically no chance Harden will have another season scoring the way he is in this one. After this season he has four years left on his contract.

Let's be conservative, saying Harden plays 70 games per season over the next four. Except for a lockout shortened season he has never played fewer than 72. Let's say next season he scores "only" 27 points per game…then in subsequent seasons 24 per game, then 22, then at age 33 20 points per game. That would vault Harden over 25,000 points. In NBA history only 22 players have massed 25K. The only other guy who'll gain admission to that club before Harden is Kevin Durant.

Whether James Harden wins a second MVP Award is up in the air. This is not: If Harden retired today, he's a lock Hall of Famer.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Daylight Saving Time kicks in tomorrow night. Yes! 2. My Colts/Clowney hypothetical: would you match and keep him or take the picks? 3. Most distinctive college basketball homecourt settings: Bronze-Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt Silver-Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke Gold-Carrier Dome, Syracuse

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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