The last few years have seen about as strong a run of sports success as the City of Houston has ever seen from their three big sports teams simultaneously. This has been led by the Astros, but has included some notable showings by both the Rockets and the Texans. The question at this point is whether the pendulum is swinging the other way in the city.
The Astros since 2015 have had five winning seasons only derailed by the 2020 shortened season of 29-31. They have had three consecutive seasons of 100+ wins and three consecutive AL West titles. They have had five playoff runs that resulted in two World Series appearances and one championship. They made two other appearances in the ALCS falling just short of the WS and in the other playoff appearance came within a few outs of ousting the eventual World Champion Royals in 2015. A team that had only 3 playoff series wins in their history heading into 2015, have vanquished ten opponents in the playoffs since 2015.
In that same time period, the Rockets have been to the playoffs all six seasons and reached the Western Conference Finals twice in that time. They won their division 4 times and had 4 seasons of 50+ wins including a team record 65 wins in 2017-2018. In that time period, they won 7 playoff series and always seemed like a threat to make the NBA Finals.
The Texans while not quite as successful as the other two teams in town, had their best stretch of football in their history in the last few seasons. They had four winning seasons since 2015, won their division 4 times and made the playoffs 4 times. In their history, they had only been to the playoffs twice before this run. They had two playoff wins in these four appearances, matching the number of playoff wins in their previous history, but never got past the divisional round.
But in the last year, the fates of all three franchises have hit a speed bump that at times has seemed to be a wall in some cases. In a highly unusual coincidence, all three teams replaced their Head Coach/ Manager and GMs after seasons where all three teams respectively went to the playoffs. The Astros, of course, fired GM Jeff Luhonw and Manager A.J. Hinch on a black Monday last January for their part (or lack of overview) of the cheating scandal. GM and Head Coach and Czar Bill O’Brien made it into the 2020 season but was fired after an 0-4 start, coming on the heels of inexplicable trades and apparent loss of confidence of his top players like J.J. Watt. Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni both kind of faded away – stepping down after being the latest in a long line of front office personnel, coaches and players to fail to win in conjunction with James Harden. That list includes Kevin McHale, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook among others.
So where do these teams lie today? The Texans are in the midst of a putrid season where they are wasting an excellent season from QB Deshaun Watson due to being surrounded by a bunch of crappy players and lack of draft choices based on O’Brien’s GM misdeeds. They are also looking for both a new head coach and GM, limping along with interim folks not doing well in holding down the fort. The Rockets have brought in a new Head Coach Stephen Silas and a new GM Rafael Stone. They have traded away their second-best player Russell Westbrook after his trade demand. Their best player, James Harden has also demanded a trade, but the team may not be too anxious if they can’t get the right deal and you rarely get the right deal when everyone knows the player is demanding it. The Rockets feel like they are that one trade away from a rebuild.
And the Astros?? Well, they brought in veteran Manager Dusty Baker and newbie GM James Click to lead the team. They were inundated with pitching injuries and losses that led them to an under .500 regular season. They somehow pulled things together and came within one win of an improbable World Series appearance after entering an expanded playoff field as the last seed. They are at a bit of a crossroads here. If their pitching youngsters continue to contribute as they did in 2020 and their offensive veterans return to what made them great before 2020, this team could bring back their golden age. If the pitching youngsters are found out and the offensive veterans continue to regress this could be a very long year.
An objective view of the situation is that the Astros, who were tripped up the worst by fate in 2020 are probably in the best position to lead the city and its sports teams back to another golden age. They have the most talent under control and have a good mix of youth available to them to become a sustainably great team.