Brock Osweiler and James Harden.
With apologies to J.J. Watt (who might be the best football player on the planet), Osweiler and Harden are, without a doubt, the two most important players on their respective teams. And while on the surface it wouldn't appear that the two have a whole lot in common, what with Harden Kardashian-ing his way through the offseason and the happily married Osweiler only making waves one time when he got shoved outside a pizza joint, the stories about how and why they arrived in Houston are practically mirror images!
How so? Well, I'm glad you asked...
6. Both are tall males who went to Arizona State and left early.
This is an obvious, empirical similarity. Harden spent two seasons in Scottsdale as one of the taller members of the student body before taking his talents to the NBA. Meanwhile, about that same time, Osweiler arrived on campus as a bit of a unicorn — a 6-foot-8 quarterback, but an athletic one, as he'd been recruited to play basketball at Gonzaga, among other schools. So I guess we can add...
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6a. Both were good enough to play Division I basketball.
5. Both have signature TMZ videos in their most recent off-seasons.
For Harden it was this video of him walking head first into a car window before promising the world that the next round of Adidas shoes with his name on them would be amazing...
For Osweiler, it was this brief skirmish outside a Scottsdale pizzeria, in which he (quite impressively) managed to hold onto this pizza while being shoved with two hands right in the middle of the back...
4. Both were brought here in out-of-the-blue "Holy shit!" deals.
The shock for each of these deals was a little different, in part because one was a trade out of nowhere and the other was a highly publicized free agency courtship. The Harden shock was sudden, coming down on a Saturday night in late October. It just so happened that I was in Oklahoma at an OU football game that night, and the Thunder fans at that game seemed to feel sideswiped, especially when they found out that Kevin Martin was the best player they were getting in return. A few years later, Texans and Broncos fans were both well aware of the Texans' pursuit of Osweiler, but I think, deep down, both sides were skeptical that it would happen. However, at 2:07 p.m. last Wednesday, my radio show was brought to a joyous halt when my producer got in my ear and said, "Holy shit, the Texans are getting Osweiler." Harden's and Osweiler's acquisitions were both fantastic, albeit very different, surprises.
3. Both were/are expected to take their teams to the "next level."
Prior to Harden's arrival, the Rockets were mired in a three-season slump in which they finished just out of the playoffs each season, never falling below .500, but never able to get any traction toward something better. That is, until Harden arrived. The next season, they made the playoffs. That summer, they acquired Dwight Howard, and a couple of years later, they were in the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile, under Bill O'Brien's tutelage, the Texans have cobbled together two 9-7 seasons with a revolving door at quarterback. Expectations for Osweiler are that he will take a team with one of the league's best defenses to at least 10-6, maybe 11-5, and back to the relevance they enjoyed in 2011 and 2012.
2. Both became available because eventually their old teams were pinching pennies.
Sometimes, in the NBA, things get determined by mere sequence, chronologically. The Thunder drafted Kevin Durant in 2007, Russell Westbrook in 2008 and Harden in 2009. So when the time came for their max-level extensions, they went in that order, with the team forced to decide on Harden after already committing tens of millions to KD and Russ. Now, to be clear, some of the trepidation over giving Harden a max deal had to do with his role on the team. I mean, do you really give a max-level deal to your sixth man? So they offered him a deal just shy of the max, around $13 million per year instead of the $15 to $16 million he could have received. Harden wanted a max deal, so the Thunder moved him before they lost him to free agency the next season. Similarly, the Broncos drew a line in the sand with Osweiler where they wouldn't go over $16 million per year. The Texans gladly gave him $18 million per year, and $37 million in guaranteed money (versus Denver's offer of $30 million guaranteed) to get the job done.
1. Neither one plays defense.
Sorry, James. That one was just too easy. (In all seriousness, though, Harden has been stupendous, even with somewhat lackluster defense, over the past two months.)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.