THE PALLILOG

Here's why we should all keep an open mind about James Harden

Rockets James Harden
He's not the first, and won't be the last to request a trade. Photo by Pool/Getty Images
Let's examine just how irreplaceable James Harden is to the Rockets

Texans at Colts Sunday. Yippee! Off one of the most embarrassing showings in franchise history (and that's saying something) the Texans are left with three for them essentially meaningless games. Some foolhardy types might talk about building momentum for next season blah, blah, blah.

The off field stuff is of vastly more importance these days, most prominently the better finally get it right hire of the next General Manager. 2021 carries little promise for the Texans. The new GM should basically be granted a redshirt year on his contract to clear dead salary cap weight off the books before 2022 and sit around during next year's Draft with no pick in the first or second round. The first named candidate to interview this week was ESPN analyst and former NFL personnel man Louis Riddick. Riddick also has dates with the Lions and the Falcons. If offered all three gigs on similar terms, which does he take? The Texans have Deshaun Watson as their beacon of hope. The Lions' quarterback is mediocre Matthew Stafford, the Falcons have Matt Ryan who turns 36 before next season. On the other hand while the Texans are thumb twiddling through the first two rounds of the draft, the Lions and Falcons will be making picks.

Countdown to liftoff

The Rockets start their season Wednesday night. Will James Harden finish the season as a Rocket? Probably not. For all the sturm und drang around Harden, as long as he's around one should expect him to continue scoring bushelsful of points, for the Rockets to win a decent number of games, and then for a 26th consecutive season miss the NBA Finals.

This is a common occurrence in the NBA

Harden's actions have made him a not inappropriate target for some scathing criticism. That he wants out because he doesn't see a path to an NBA title as a Rocket? You think his vision is off about that? His showing up in less than peak condition, and absurd answers to some press conference questions, and seeking an easier route toward a title are off-putting to many. Nothing wrong with that but that Harden is committing mind-blowing treason is a bit much. Once upon a time Hakeem Olajuwon demanded to be traded from the Rockets. That was before the Dream-led back-to-back titles of 1994 and '95. Kobe Bryant demanded the Lakers trade him. So did Magic Johnson way back when. Charles Barkley demanded trades in both Philadelphia and Phoenix. Even deeper in the time machine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the Milwaukee Bucks to deal him. Before him Wilt Chamberlain did the same to the 76ers. More recently Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis pushed hard for deals. A couple of months ago they played in the Finals against each other.

Chris Paul years before Davis in New Orleans. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Vince Carter in Toronto. Superstar basketball players matter more to their teams than individuals in other team sports. Franchise quarterbacks don't play defense (insert Harden D joke here). Mike Trout comes up four or five times per game. Since the greatest hoopers matter more, they are catered to more, become divas more, and make demands more. Distasteful when your team is on the short end, of course.

How did the Rockets land Tracy McGrady in 2004? He demanded a trade from Orlando.

Why they do it? Because they can. Harden is just the latest contestant singing the common NBA star refrain: "Get me outta here."

College football playoff picture

What a joke that Florida lost at home to a bad LSU team and dropped one spot (to seventh) in the playoff rankings. Even if the Gators beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game Saturday they will not belong in the top four. Not over 8-1 Texas A&M they wouldn't (presuming the Ags win at Tennessee). Had Florida beaten LSU and then Alabama, the Gators would have deserved to vault over the Aggies. A&M's three point home win over UF in the first month of the season would not (and should not) have trumped an otherwise unbeaten Gator team that just beat number one in the nation to win the SEC title. Losing to a 3-5 team late in the season should be disqualifying, certainly so when it's a team's second defeat.

The fifth ranked Aggies best hope of crashing the playoff party is for Notre Dame to beat Clemson for a second time. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney would probably whine away, that his team still deserves to be in, but the selection committee's job then should include basically telling Dabo to shut up. Clemson has exactly one win over a team that finished with a winning record. If Notre Dame loses reasonably competitively the Fighting Irish should stay in the top four.

If Ohio State beats Northwestern for the Big 10 crown, it's quite clear the Buckeyes are going to the playoff despite having played only six games.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Guessing George Springer becomes a Met, shortly after the New Year.

2. Anyone else really like the smell of brewing coffee, but not like drinking coffee?

3. Best Italian restaurant desserts: Bronze-Zabaglione Silver-Italian cream cake Gold-Tiramisu

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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