By late 2016 and early 2017, here in the city of Houston, sports was in a pretty good place. The Rockets were in the midst of a 55-win season with Mike D'Antoni in his first season, the Astros were clearly a rising team, ready to become a perennial postseason contender, and the Texans had shed themselves of Brock Osweiler, with the thought being "Wow, if we went 9-7 with HIM as our QB and with no J.J. Watt, what's possible with capable QB play?"
Certainly, it wasn't perfect, but there was a lot of optimism, and compared to the dark times of 2013 (Astros going 51-111, Texans going 2-14, Rockets were barely a playoff team in james Harden's first season here), early 2017 was a sports Shangri-La. Then the three general managers for those three teams made 2017 the year they would take Houston to the next level. Each of them made massive franchise changing deals that altered the course of Houston sports forever, and the effects from all three deals are still being felt (and will for a long, long time).
Let's relive the magic, shall we?
DESSHAUN WATSON TRADE
April 27, 2017: Houston Texans trade their 2017 first round pick (25th overall) and 2018 first round pick to the Browns for the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft, and select QB Deshaun Watson
INITIAL REACTION: STUNNED. Rick Smith was never a general manager who would make big moves UP in the first round. He had moved back before, most famously in 2008 before plucking Duane Brown with the 26th overall pick. But moving up, and moving up to get a quarterback was the boldest (and best) move of Smith's decade as the Texans' GM.
PAYOFF THROUGH NOW: So far, so good. We would all like to have had the experience that Kansas City has had with Patrick Mahomes, who was taken two spots ahead of Watson, but it's not Watson's fault that we haven't. Watson's rookie year was shortened by a torn ACL, but he was dynamite in six games. In the two full seasons since, he's led the Texans to two AFC South titles, and double digit wins in both years.
SETUP FOR THE FUTURE: Watson appears primed to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the league for the next decade, and he is about to be paid like that, with rumors of a $40 million per year contract floating around. The Texans could not feasibly ask to be set up better at quarterback going forward considering where and how they acquired Watson.
CHRIS PAUL TRADE
June 28, 2017: Los Angeles Clippers trade Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, $661k cash and a 2018 1st round draft pick (Omari Spellman was later selected)
INITIAL REACTION: Again, STUNNED. Rockets GM Daryl Morey had intimated after the Rockets got bounced by the Spurs in the second round of the 2017 playoffs that he might have a "trick or two up [his] sleeve." Nobody thought it would be bringing in a Hall of Fame point guard to pair with James Harden.
PAYOFF THROUGH NOW: Paul lasted two seasons in Houston. His time here will be remembered for three things — first, the Rockets taking the Warriors dynasty nearly over the brink in 2018 before, and this bis number two, Paul pulled a hamstring in Game 5 of that series (with the Rockets up 3-2). That offseason, and here's number three, Paul signed a $40 million per year extension, which made a lot fo fans feel queasy, even though we all knew it was coming the day they traded for Paul. That led to....
SETUP FOR THE FUTURE: ... Paul being traded to Oklahoma City last July (along with a slew of first round picks) for Russell Westbrook. So while he is not directly impacting the Rockets' future, Paul as the asset being flipped for Westbrook helped grease the skids for this fascinating brand of "small ball" the Rockets are playing.
JUSTIN VERLANDER TRADE
August 31, 2017: Detroit Tigers trade Justin Verlander with a player to be named later and cash to the Houston Astros for Daz Cameron (minors), Franklin Perez (minors) and Jake Rogers. The Detroit Tigers sent Juan Ramirez (minors) (October 13, 2017) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade
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INITIAL REACTION: REJOICE! This was the closest thing that we'd felt to the Randy Johnson trade of 1998, with the big differences being (a) the prospects the Astros sent to the Tigers in the Verlander deal weren't nearly the caliber of those sent to Seattle for Johnson, and (b) Verlander was under contract for two more seasons AFTER 2017, whereas the Big Unit was a free agent after 1998.
PAYOFF THROUGH NOW: Verlander has been the best starting pitcher in the American League since the day he set foot in Houston, going 5-0 down the stretch in 2017, and then finishing runner up for the Cy Young in 2018, and winning the award in 2019. The Astros have been a high level contender in Verlander's two-plus seasons here, wining a title in 2017, and coming within eight outs of a title in 2019.
SETUP FOR THE FUTURE: Verlander begins a two year, $66 million extension when the season restarts later this month (prorated in 2020 for 60 games, of course). The Astros' title window is directly tied to the two seasons remaining with Verlander and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. Verlander is this team's Most Valuable Player.