The old saying is that it is better to be lucky than good. I don't know that I agree with that necessarily, as being good is more sustainable than sitting around hoping for lightning to strike, but I will concede that success does involve both — good fortune and good talent.
For the last two years, it feels like the Houston Rockets and the Houston Texans have had very little of either. With the Rockets, the slide into the abyss felt more like the way it was always going to end with James Harden, and a rebuild had to be triggered. For the Texans, the wounds were far more self-inflicted. Yeah, there was some bad luck, but they made a lot of it themselves.
At any rate, one thing I think we can all agree on — despite the fact that it's not reflected in their won-loss records, ever since the two major stars for each of those teams asked to be traded (Harden for the Rockets, Deshaun Watson for the Texans), the luck seems to be turning in small, tangible ways to where we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
Both franchises are probably still at least a couple years away from being in the deep end of the pool with the adults, but the building blocks are in place, and will continue to be augmented the next few drafts. Let's look at each of them, the Texans and Rockets, starting with the Texans:
TEXANS ROCK BOTTOM MOMENT:
Over a three week period, starting with January 6, Deshaun Watson's tweets "some things never change" on the day the team hired Nick Caserio as GM, and then ultimately his camp makes his trade demands public on January 29, the day that David Culley is hired as the Texans' next head coach, a day which included disastrous press conference moments like this: What's gone right since then.....
* It's hard to say that 22 women having the issues they allege to have had with Deshaun Watson is something "gone right," but the P.R. backlash against Watson certainly made it easier for the Texans to justify acquiescing to his trade demands.
* Nick Caserio's first draft class as GM, highlighted by third round QB Davis Mills, turns out to be pretty damn good, including Mills' having the second best rookie season of all the half dozen or so rookie starting QB's.
* Culley was a disaster in his one year as a head coach, and the team seemed on the verge of doubling down on disaster by hiring Josh McCown to replace Culley, but the Brian Flores racial discrimination lawsuit seemed to scare the Texans off McCown and into promoting DC Lovie Smith to head coach, which maybe should have been the plan starting about seven games into the 2021 season.
* Shortly after the police decided not to file criminal charges against Watson, in March 2022, Nick Caserio was finally able to pull off a trade for the beleaguered QB, sending him to Cleveland for six draft picks, including three first rounders. Now, Cleveland fans can worry about suspensions and the civil litigation process.
* The Texans' 2022 draft seems to have been very well received by league experts, and the salary cap is almost all cleaned up from the disastrous Bill O'Brien Era. With four first round picks over the next two drafts, the Texans are well positioned for the future.
ROCKETS ROCK BOTTOM MOMENT: On January 12, 2021, the Rockets lost 117-100 to LeBron James and the Lakers, falling to 3-6 on the season, leading to this little performance from Harden in the postgame press conference:
This would be Harden's final day as a Rockets employee, as he would be traded the next day to the Brooklyn Nets for a package of first round picks and pick swaps that would be the fuel (along with their own poor performance generating some lottery picks) for the pending rebuild. While the wins have not come yet, the transactional good fortune for the Rockets has been profound:
* The Harden trade yielded first round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, and the right to swap places with Brooklyn in 2023, 2025, and 2027. There are no protections on these picks, so it's worth noting that Brooklyn is closer to falling apart at the seams than winning an NBA title. Hell, Harden isn't even a Net anymore! Short of Kevin Durant retiring, this could not have played out better for the Rockets.
* The Russell Westbrook trade does still linger over Houston, with some first round picks and swaps still set to go to OKC from that deal, but the one huge bullet the Rockets dodged was in the 2021 lottery, where, if their pick fell outside the top four, it would have been swapped to OKC for a pick in the teens. The ping pong balls landed on the Rockets picking second, Jalen Green is a Rocket, and life is good.
* Actually, the Rockets rookie class as a whole this past season was very promising, as Green made first team All-Rookie and fellow rookies Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher showed signs of future stardom, or at least future roles in a quality rotation.
* The 2022 lottery was also successful! The Rockets landed the third overall pick in what is perceived to be a three player draft — Auburn wing Jabari Smith, Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren, and Duke forward Paolo Banchero.
The future is bright, Houstonians! Don't let any haters outside Houston tell you otherwise. The tide is finally turning our way a little bit.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.