FALCON POINTS

These 5 teams of interest in Houston have the most to prove in the new year

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

As the calendar turns on a new year and new decade, the sports scene in Houston has not changed all that much. The Astros are going to be contenders again (and accused of cheating again), the Rockets will continue to tweak to try to take the ultimate step, and the Texans will be hard to get behind as long as Bill O'Brien prowls the sidelines. Still, when it comes to the local pro and college ranks, these five programs/franchises will have the most to prove in the new year:


1) Can the Texans rise above mediocrity?

They get their first chance Saturday against the Bills. While just winning A playoff game should not be the goal, considering the Texans past postseason appearances under O'Brien, a loss would render the season a major disappointment and call into question the entire operation (again). And make no mistake, the Texans can lose this game. A second-round setback against a better team would not really be a success, either, but it would be an improvement. Getting to an AFC Championship Game should be the minimum goal. Does anyone really believe that can happen? The window is now for the Texans, and a playoff run this season or massive improvement next year might silence some critics. Of all the teams on this list, they have the most to prove.

2) The big state schools

The Texans Longhorns did not proclaim themselves back after winning the Alamo Bowl, which is smart. They did follow up a 10 win season with an 8-win one, and eight should be the floor there. The Longhorns should be serious contenders for the Big 12 title and a playoff berth at worst in 2020. It's time to find out if Tom Herman is the right man to get it done.

In College Station, the Aggies went all in on Jimbo Fisher, and the results have been, like the commercial says, just OK. Fisher has gone 9-4 and 8-5, and this past season they lost to every good team on their schedule. They did play perhaps the toughest slate in the nation, but at some point, Fisher is supposed to win some of those games. It needs to happen this year.

3) Harden and the Rockets

The Rockets more than any other team in Houston keep pushing their chips in the middle and trying new things. The addition of Russell Westbrook is still a work in progress, although the team has shown some signs of life. The Rockets have at least been to a couple Western Conference Finals in the Harden era, but the franchise makes no bones about its goal of winning a title. They still look to be a little short of teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks in the title hierarchy, but they aren't done tweaking, either. Mike D'Antoni's job remains in flux. This latest all-in move has to pay off.

4) UH's bizarre, bold move

When Dana Holgorsen took over UH's football team, expectations were high. But it did not take long to figure out the cupboard had been left awfully bare by Major Applewhite and his staff. So Holgorsen basically punted on the season after the Tulane loss, red shirting some key seniors and limping to a 4-8 record. Star quarterback D'Eriq King was one of those players. If King stays and is joined by a bevy of high quality transfers, the Cougars could be right back in the AAC race next season. If he leaves and the strategy backfires? Holgorsen's job is safe, but this year's moves will be defined by next season.

5) Does a controversial off-season derail the Astros?

The dumb sign stealing saga has dominated the off-season, along with the loss of Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, which makes New York the likely AL favorites. The Astros have not made any significant additions, and do not appear to be poised to do so, suddenly concerned about a bloated payroll. The off-field messes, from the sign saga to the former assistant GM saga to the forcing the Ryans out saga...To the on field: A.J. Hunch's bizarre handling of his pitching staff in the Game 7 Series loss. The Astros will have their lineup intact for another year, but the starting pitching - so strong last season - is a big bunch of question marks. While the off-field stuff should not impact things on the field too much, who knows? The Rangers and Angels will be better. The Astros are still the class of the AL West, but did their title window close? Probably not, but there will be real questions in 2020.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome