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 gameā€¦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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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