From Boom to Bust? The Future of Houston Sports

Deshaun Watson gives us all a reason to smile about Houston sports and lord knows we need it.
Deshaun Watson gives us all a reason to smile about Houston sports and lord knows we need it. Photo by Eric Sauseda
It felt like we were living in the golden age of Houston sports. The Astros, coming off a World Series (yeah, we know) looked like perennial contenders. The Rockets were embarking on what would be their best regular season ever and a near miss at a championship. The Texans rolled to an 11-5 record with their young quarterback leading the way (let's not talk about what happened in the playoffs).

All three teams racked up star power with players like James Harden, Chris Paul, Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander, JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson. Everyone was happy, the birds were singing, the flowers were blooming and all was right in Houston.

Sounds great, right? Well, 2020 has a way of wrecking a lot of things and it appears Houston sports was on the list.

In the last year, the Astros, thanks to their sign-stealing scandal, are not only the most hated team in sports, but they lost the GM who was the architect of all their great teams and the beloved manager who coached them. The Rockets shed Paul for Russell Westbrook, lost to the Lakers in the bubble and had both their GM, regarded as one of the best in the business, and coach walk away from the team. Then, there are the Texans, who fired coach/general manager Bill O'Brien after the team looked miserable early in the season.

If that isn't weird enough, team ownership is relatively new. Oh, sure, Cal McNair bears the name of his father, but it was only after Bob McNair passed away in 2018 that he took over. Tilman Fertitta remains a wild card as the practical rookie owner of the Rockets. Compared to those two, Jim Crane seems like he has owned the Astros for decades even though it was less than 10 years ago.

But, we still have many of the star players, you may argue. Yeah, about that.

The Texans are not exactly brimming with young talent outside of Watson. They traded away their second best offensive player and, on defense, Watt is, unfortunately, an aging star whose best days are likely behind him. They have drafted miserably and remain generally mediocre.

The Rockets still have the best offensive player in basketball in Harden, but he is on the wrong side of 30, as is Westbrook. The team mortgaged its young talent and draft picks to get the players they have, so they have little leverage or salary cap space to improve until after Harden and Westbrook come off the books in a couple years. Given their current status as a good but probably not title-contending team, those could be a rough couple years.

Finally, the Astros. They discovered some young talent in their stable of pitchers this season, but only because they had to with the loss of Gerrit Cole and the injury to Verlander. It is likely Verlander will not play another game as an Astro and one season remains with Zack Greinke. The young staff is talented but unproven. It is also expected that the team will lose its entire outfield minus Kyle Tucker, whose ascension this year made many within the organization breathe a sigh of relief. That includes team cornerstone George Springer. And we don't know if Yordan Alvarez's issues with his knee will be fixed or not.

Look, we don't want to go full doom and gloom on you. Just because things are changing doesn't mean they are changing for the worse. In the case of the Texans, there isn't anywhere to go but up. But, these are the facts, and they make us more than a little uneasy.

Those two years of the golden era feel awfully abbreviated. Let's hope they aren't.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke