In what's already been a bizarre and twisted year globally on virtually every front — social, medical, political — here in Houston, the sports landscape has mirrored that craziness, as well. The results have actually been fairly cookie cutter and expected — the Texans lost in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the Rockets lost in the second round of the NBA playoffs, and the Astros were one game from getting back to the World Series. Those line up perfectly with expectations for each of those teams.
However, HERE is the downright unfathomable part of sports in the year 2020, summarized in a tweet I sent out after Daryl Morey announced he was stepping down as Rockets' GM last week:
On January 12, 2020, here was the roster of head coaches and GMs in Houston:— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) October 15, 2020
GM Jeff Luhnow
MGR AJ Hinch
GM Daryl Morey
HC Mike D’Antoni
GM William O’Brien
HC Bill O’Brien
Now, they’re all gone. Nine months. In a town with relatively good teams!
Think about that for a moment. I mean, it's bizarre coincidence enough for this type of attrition, whether voluntary or forced, to occur with three sports teams in the same town when the results have warranted cleaning house. But Houston's three biggest sports franchises were all among the final eight teams standing in their respective sports in the calendar year 2020 postseasons! In fact, Houston is the only city to have an NFL, NBA, and MLB team play in a "quarterfinal" (i.e. final eight teams standing) game or series in the year 2020. Not Los Angeles, not New York, not Chicago — all cities with multiple teams in some of those sports.
So now we are left to assess the legacies and future employment prospects for A.J. Hinch, Jeff Luhnow, Mike D'Antoni, Daryl Morey, and Bill O'Brien. Anything is possible with this group... except for O'Brien becoming a general manager ever again. NEVER, EVER AGAIN.
Which one gets a job in his area of expertise first?
This was looking like Mike D'Antoni as the heavy chalk right after the bubble season ended for the NBA, but slowly the jobs that D'Antoni was most tied to, specifically Philadelphia and Indiana, have dried up. I don't think either of the two conventional GM's, Morey or Luhnow, jump into a new GM position any time soon, and I think Bill O'Brien needs at least a year away from football to cleanse the "black cloud" image surrounding him. So let's call A.J. Hinch as the favorite here. I think he would be an excellent hire for any number of MLB openings.
Which one least deserved to be let go?
As good as these teams have been, it's hard to argue that any of the five guys involved in this discussion got a raw deal. HInch and Luhnow were in management positions for a team that was caught violating some very basic baseball rules, with punishments directed at management being spelled out in the warning that went to all 30 MLB teams in 2017. Now, both were originally suspended for a year by MLB, and then fired by owner Jim Crane. That should be pointed out. On the Rockets front, owner Tilman Fertitta never seemed to be all-in on D'Antoni, a Les Alexander hire, and Morey's tweet about freeing Hong Kong did enough business damage to the Rockets' revenue pipeline to China that it's a mild surprise he survived that as long as he did. O'Brien, quite simply, had to go when the Texans fell to 0-4 this season. So in a field where it's tough to find someone who was really "screwed," I'll go with Hinch as the one who most deserved to keep his job (after serving his one-year suspension).
Which one was the most popular departure?
Bill O'Brien. Next question.
Which one had the best run?
While the Texans and Rockets both did some good things under the watches of O'Brien and D'Antoni as head coaches, and while Daryl Morey had about as remarkable a run as a GM could have without winning a title, you have to choose one of Hinch or Luhnow, because the Astros performed at such an elite level for their respective runs here. In the end, I will choose Hinch, whose deft management of the pitching staff was one of the biggest reasons they won the title in 2017. I'll choose Hinch over Luhnow, largely because, while Luhnow was an excellent GM, the black marks of a reported toxic culture behind the scenes, and the incident where Brandon Taubman (Luhnow's assistant GM) harassed some female reporters in the clubhouse after the 2019 ALCS, both leave stains on Luhnow's legacy, not to mention Hinch handling the sign stealing punishment with complete accountability and Luhnow pointing fingers at everyone BUT himself.
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