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

Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Rockets are opting not to renew associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik's contract for next season. Bzdelik was brought to Houston in 2016 to be a defensive counterpart to head coach Mike D'Antoni and briefly left the team for personal reasons this year before returning in late November. It is unknown the official reason he was let go, but Bzdelik was famously non-committal about returning to the Rockets next season.

"That's a really good question. I don't know the answer to it," Bzdelik said to Feigen last month. "First of all, none of us have any guarantees on tomorrow. Second, you have to ask my wife. I don't think it's that big of a deal."

When asked why Bzdelik was let go, Morey told Feigen, "We're looking for any way to improve. That goes for players, coaches, front office, everything."

So while Morey acknowledged that Bzdelik did a "fantastic job" with the Rockets, it seems that the organization wants to make a meaningful upgrade at associate head coach. Not renewing Bzdelik contract is quite the move, but this is an organization known for their careful decision making (Bzdelik himself was hired after a month-long coaching search). Given their track record, it's likely the move wasn't made hastily. Trying to discern how much credit Bzdelik should be given for Houston's turnaround defensively this season is difficult as the Rockets were largely the same defensively after he returned to the bench.


Houston Rockets Defensive Rating:

Before Bzdelik Returned: 109.8

After Bzdelik Returned: 110.2


However, ignoring the impact that Bzdelik had on Houston's defensive culture would be naive. Bzdelik had a large part in implementing Houston's switch-heavy scheme over the past couple seasons that kept Houston competitive against the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets now have a large hole in Bzdelik's absence at associate head coach that needs to be filled and it'll be interesting to see which direction they go in. There are a couple candidates that stick out though based on Houston's prior dealings.

1) Roy Rogers (current Houston Rockets assistant coach)

The Rockets are no strangers to promoting from within and Rogers took the interim associate head coach job in Bzdelik's absence this season. While the Rockets were fairly mediocre defensively in that time, Rogers was given short notice to prepare for the role and responsibilities that came with it. With ten years of NBA coaching experience under his belt and three with the Rockets, Rogers profiles as an obvious candidate to take over the position should the Rockets choose to give it to him. Rogers has seen time in New Jersey, Boston, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Washington before he took the position in Houston in 2016. He stems from the Lawrence Frank/Doc Rivers coaching tree and played professional basketball for eight years (four of those in the NBA) so his ability to relate to players has always been an asset.

2) Lionel Hollins (former Brooklyn Nets head coach)

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has considered hiring Lionel Hollins at several points in the past decade. In 2014, Houston wanted to add Hollins to Kevin McHale's coaching staff as an assistant, but he was hired by the Nets to be a head coach soon after. Two years later, they were interested in bringing Hollins on as a lead assistant for Stephen Silas, but opted for the pairing of D'Antoni and Bzdelik instead. Hollins has decades of coaching experience under his belt and is known for placing a heavy emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.

3) Jeff Hornacek (former New York Knicks head coach)

It's likely Hornacek wants a shot at being a head coach again, but the 56-year-old is no stranger to being an assistant coach. Hornacek saw time in Utah and Golden State as an assistant and sitting on the bench for a team like Houston could help raise his profile when another head coaching opportunity opens up elsewhere. Hornacek was also a candidate for the Rockets head coaching job in 2016.

4) Ime Udoka (current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach)

Udoka has been with the Spurs for seven years and in that time he has earned a sterling reputation around the NBA for his ability to communicate with players. Udoka may still be a few years away from landing interviews for a head coaching position, he may be seasoned for a shot at an associate head coaching job.

"He exudes a confidence and a comfort in his own skin where people just gravitate to him," Popovich said of Udoka in 2016. "He's a fundamentally sound teacher because he's comfortable with himself, he knows the material and players read it."

5) Stephen Silas (current Dallas Mavericks associate head coach)

This may seem like a bit of curveball (and difficult to pull off), but Silas was actually a finalist for the head coaching job in 2016. Silas came away impressing the Rockets enough to earn a second interview and the Rockets even considered making Silas the lead assistant for D'Antoni. It would be tricky to lure Silas away from Dallas as he would essentially be signing on for a job he already has and the Mavericks were able to secure him to a multi-year deal back in May. It would likely require the Rockets seeking permission from the Mavericks.


There is no shortage of coaching talent around the league and the Rockets will have a lot of time to replace Bzdelik's services before training camp this August.

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