Loyal restless Houston sports fans need change, relief from decades of pain

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Photo by pixabay

The Toyota Center where the Houston Rockets play.

Eli Cowan, David Bournat, and Ryan Lu

Dysfunction, frustration and disappointment. These three words can be used to describe Houston sports for as long as many of us can remember. For the past decade, Houston sport teams have not only let down the city of Houston but also eroded all confidence in the management of the Texans, Rockets and Astros franchises. 

Starting with the most historically successful franchise, making their current struggle only that much more frustrating, the Houston Rockets have let fans down continuously over the last National Basketball Association (NBA) seasons. Since the end of the late 90s, a decade in which the Rockets were amongst the NBA’s most successful teams, the Rockets have been unable to replicate their championship successes. The Rockets have made the playoffs every year since 2012, since the acquisition of all-star and 2018 MVP James Harden, and yet still manage to choke in critical series, most notably in 2018 against the Golden State Warriors. Now they have found themselves in an existential crisis: they cannot commit to a true identity. The Rockets have had no shortage of talent on their roster throughout this rebuilding process, from all-time great Chris Paul to 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook

The issue has never been the accumulation of talent, rather how to use it. After failing to advance far enough in the playoffs since 2012, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni in 2016 intending to redefine itself and play to the strengths of its stars. Unfortunately, the seasons ended with the same result: no championship ring. After losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2015, the Rockets attempted to replicate their style of play by matching their size and tried to win by out-shooting them. A bold task against the best shooting team of all time, and yet another questionable decision.

This decision defined the Rockets’ roster construction and style of play for the next five years, and ultimately the Rockets dug themselves into a hole too deep to escape from. The small-ball tactic failed year after year, as it exposed too many weaknesses on the defensive end and ultimately led to the demise of the Rockets that we are seeing first-hand in 2020. D’Antoni, the only coach capable of coaching their style of play, left after seeing no success, and in an attempt to redefine themselves, the Rockets hired a new, inexperienced head coach, another questionable decision. 

To make matters worse, general manager Daryl Morey, the mastermind since 2008, left too. With the team’s stars approaching the back end of their primes, the Rockets are left without the luxury of being able to develop a new offense with a new coach, prompting both James Harden and Russell Westbrook to be trade to other NBA franchises. Thus, the Rockets find themselves at the foot of a massive rebuild, much to the chagrin of its exhausted fans. 

On the other hand, the Houston Texans might be in the worst position of all three teams. After controversially drafting JJ Watt in the first round in 2011, the Texans hosted one of the NFL’s top-rated defenses and pass rushing teams and won the AFC South pretty handily year after year. Yet, as Houston sports tend to go, that divisional success did not translate to the playoffs where the Texans underperformed every year. They never reached a Super Bowl or even an AFC championship game. When they reached the playoffs, it was one disappointing game after another, the Texans’ hopes falling out of their grasp at the last minute.

After drafting JJ Watt, the Texans continued to accumulate talent, drafting All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and ProBowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, but still were unable to win more than one playoff game together in a single postseason. Those three stars played together for over five years, coached by Bill O’Brien, darling college football coach turned Houston villain

The Texans’ front office dysfunction began when Owner Bob McNair made controversial racial comments about his players a few years back. That began a domino effect resulting in the general manager (GM) at the time being fired and replaced by O’Brien. O’Brien being named the permanent replacement was yet another questionable decision in the Houston sports world, as it is unconscionably difficult to handle the responsibility of being a GM and head coach at the same time, especially when the two positions tend to be filled by people with completely different skill sets. That decision lasted about a year and resulted in one of the worst decisions a GM has made in NFL history.

This past offseason, he traded away the team’s star receiver Deandre Hopkins for old, injury-prone, running back David Johnson. Having a trio of the top players at their skill positions is not common in the league, and for O’Brien to throw that away and not get value in return for Hopkins’ talent was incredibly frustrating. Having thrown that away and the running back received in return unsurprisingly getting injured, the Texans sit with one of the NFL’s worst records, and no draft picks to show for it

The positives that come from having a poor record are obtaining good draft picks, but while O’Brien was GM, he traded all the Texans’ first-round draft picks in return for a left tackle. Now, the Texans, having much less talent at the skill positions without Hopkins and also without draft picks to fix that problem, sit at the bottom of the league wondering how they are going to get those draft picks back and hopefully find some success in the years to come. 

Now, we come to the Houston Astros, the most controversial and universally frowned upon franchise in American sports. That on its own is a lot for the city of Houston to handle, already having to shoulder the struggles of both the Rockets and the Texans. When talking about the struggles of the Astros, there really is only one thing that needs to be discussed: the cheating scandal. After many seasons as Major League Baseball’s bottom dwellers, the Astros’ young talent developed nicely and took the team to two world series in three years from 2017-2019. 

Then, in the offseason following the World Series game seven loss in 2019, the scandal began. It was reported that the Astros had been using cameras in the dugout and in center field to steal opposing teams’ signs, an advantage which gave the Astros’ offense an incredible advantage during those World Series years. The news of the scandal resulted in a complete wash of the front office, including a firing of the head coach and GM. So once again, it is proven that even when good things come to the teams in this city they never last, and there is always a caveat. The city has been robbed of its pride from that World Series and has been tainted by the embarrassment of the scandal. 

From organizational dysfunction, poor culture and even cheating scandals, Houston and its teams have been under a dark cloud for as long we can remember. Even through all that, the city’s support for its teams has been unwavering, yet the fans are beginning to grow restless. However, the Astros, Rockets and Texans are taking steps in the right direction, as all three franchises have parted ways with coaches and general managers that were the cause of this decade of misery.

The second step for these teams is to discover and develop young talent as the Houston superstars of this past decade such as J.J. Watt, George Springer, and James Harden have or are actively seeking to join other teams. Take advantage of the few remaining players we have and trade them for draft picks. Mismanagement of these franchises have ruined any hope of our city being able to win (an untainted) championship with our current rosters.

Houston sports fans: be ready to endure a few more years of pain and misery. We need to start again and build a new roster composed of young talent to lead us to a Lomabardi, Larry O’Brien or Commissioner’s trophy.

The last and most important step is to improve our front offices and scouting staff to build a roster destined for a championship. Houston fans, including the Three Penny Press staff, have shown so much support for the teams and the least they can do is for one of these franchises to win a championship.

Win. Without cheating.  Reward us for our loyalty. Thank you.