With latest Rockets news, is Houston sports headed for the dark ages?
By now, you have likely heard Russell Westbrook wants out with the Rockets. James Harden is not returning phone calls. Daryl Morey is gone and no one knows if his replacement can do the job. Mike D'Antoni is gone and no one knows if his replacement can do the job. The rest of the players are grumbling.
The Westbrook era is likely over, and maybe Harden goes next. For a city that has been buoyed by stars for the past several years, that era may be coming to a close as all three major franchises face big challenges in the coming years. (Sorry, Dynamo fans, you were already in the dark ages). A look at all three:
The off-season has been one of turmoil. In a perfect world, the Rockets would hope a new coaching staff could make things work with the two stars. But if Westbrook wants out, it might be time for a total reset, and that would include moving Harden. It would be painful, because the Rockets are a playoff team with Harden. Without him? It could be a long reset. But it has to happen sometime, and maybe now is the time. Rockets fans have gotten spoiled, so a big step back might hurt the bottom line for a while, but you can't rule out the possibility. The turmoil might just be the beginning of a brutal stretch.
George Springer is the biggest loss of the off-season, and Justin Verlander won't pitch at all in 2021. They are down two outfielders, although it is possible they bring back Michael Brantley, which would leave only one spot to fill. Yordan Alvarez should return and provide some of Springer's production, so the offense should be OK. They got enough out of the pitching staff last season to be a playoff caliber team once again. The bullpen needs to be fixed, but that's not all that difficult.
But there are still real concerns. Jeff Luhnow built a roster that made it to the ALCS four straight times. We don't know if James Click can maintain that. And is Jim Crane backing off on spending? It would not be a shock considering the loss of revenue from the Rona. They should still be good in 2021, but beyond? Carlos Correa will be a free agent after next season. Verlander might never pitch again. Zack Greinke will be a free agent. The farm system is uncertain. The Astros could easily fall back to the pack at that point. Right now, they are still a safe bet to stay relevant. But for how long?
We all know what a mess Bill O'Brien left behind, and while a shrewd GM and a better coaching staff could get them competitive pretty quickly, does anyone believe that will be the case? A poor hire at GM, another unpopular coach...things could get ugly quickly. J.J. Watt, perhaps the most beloved Texan ever, will probably not be a part of it no matter what. Texans fans will have a hard time with that, but it's going to happen, and it should.
It might be difficult to swallow, but it's not inconceivable that when 2021 rolls around, some of Houston's biggest sports names - Watt, Harden, Westbrook, Springer - will be gone. And the bad thing is it could very well get worse from there.
Hopefully, the Rockets rebuild quickly. The Astros retool. The Texans get their hires right. If not? Things could get really bleak very fast.