LaMarcus Aldridge Signs With Brooklyn Nets — Then Retires!

By Terrance Turner

March 26, 2021 (Updated April 15, 2021)

Former Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge has signed a one-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets, according to multiple sources including The Athletic. Basketball agent Jeff Schwartz confirmed the trade to ESPN. It is a one-year “veteran’s minimum” deal, according to reporter Shams Charania.

Aldridge (6’11”, 250 lb.) spent nine seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and six more with the San Antonio Spurs. He was averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, according to Yahoo! Sports. Aldridge, 35, hadn’t played since he agreed to part ways with the Spurs on March 10. Today, the seven-time All-Star signed with the Nets.

Courtesy of NBA.com.

This news comes after weeks of wheeling and dealing by the Nets organization. Earlier this month, they signed forward Blake Griffin to a deal. Terms of the deal were not released, but Griffin had stopped playing for the Detroit Pistons in February, seeking a trade. The trade to Brooklyn reunites him with former teammate and friend DeAndre Jordan (both played on the Los Angeles Clippers).

According to the NBA website, Griffin (6’10”, 250 lb) was named Rookie of the Year after his first season of play with the Clippers. He was named an All-Star for five consecutive seasons between 2011-2015. In 2014, Griffin scored 20 points or more a game for 20 consecutive games, according to Bleacher Report. He earned his sixth NBA All-Star selection while averaging a career-best 24.5 points and leading the Pistons to the NBA Playoffs in 2018-19. Griffin joins Grant Hill as the second player in franchise history to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists during his tenure in Detroit.

Blake Griffin signed with the Nets earlier this month. (Google Images)

On Jan. 13, 2021, the Houston Rockets traded star James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive blockbuster deal. The Rockets received four first-round picks and four pick swaps, all of which came from the Nets — except for a 2022 Milwaukee pick currently owned by Cleveland. Harden, a nine-time All-Star (2013-2021), led the league in scoring for three consecutive years and powered the Rockets to a franchise-best 65 wins in the 2017-18 season.

With these additions, the Brooklyn Nets now have six All-Stars — Aldridge, Griffin, Harden, Jordan, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant — making them the team to beat.

UPDATE: LaMarcus Aldridge is retiring from the NBA.

In a letter posted to social media, Aldridge, 35, revealed that he has a heart condition that has forced him to retire. “My last game, I played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat,” Aldrige wrote. “Later on that night, my rhythm got even worse, which really worried me even more. “The next morning, I told the team what was going on and they were great getting me to the hospital and getting me checked out. Though I’m better now, what I felt with my heart that night was still one of the scariest things I’ve experienced.”

“With that being said, I made the difficult decision to retire from the NBA. For 15 years, I’ve put basketball first, and now, it is time to put my health and family first.” Aldridge thanked his teams (the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Brooklyn Nets) and closed his letter with a poignant message. “You never know when something will come to an end, so make sure you enjoy it everyday. I can truly say I did just that.”

Inside Aaron Rodgers’ Shocking Engagement

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By Terrance Turner

Feb. 23, 2021

Aaron Rodgers shocked the world on Feb. 6.

During his acceptance speech for the MVP award at the NFL Honors, Rodgers reflected on 2020 and casually dropped a bombshell: “I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career.” He later thanked his fiancée in his acknowledgements, though he did not name her.

Now, we know who the lucky lady is: Big Little Lies actress Shailene Woodley. She confirmed the news last night, during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. When Fallon asked her directly, Woodley answered affirmatively: “Yes. We are engaged.”

The world was shocked by the announcement of their betrothal — after a whirlwind six-month romance. But Woodley doesn’t get why everyone is so surprised. “But for us it’s not new news. So it’s kind of funny. Everybody right now is freaking out over it and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been engaged for awhile,’” said Woodley. (Maybe people are “freaking out” because of the breakneck escalation of their relationship? Rodgers broke up with racecar driver Danica Patrick in July but got engaged to Woodley by February.)

But if Woodley’s comments are any indication, this betrothal may have been official for some time: “Yeah, we got engaged awhile ago and it’s been … he’s, first off, a wonderful, incredible human being. But I never thought I’d be engaged to somebody who threw balls for a living. But I never thought as a little girl, ‘Yeah, when I grow up I’m going to marry someone who throws balls, yeah!’ But he’s really just so good at it,” she said. “He can throw fast balls, he can throw slow balls, high balls, low balls.” (Indeed: Rodgers had a 70.7% completion percentage in 2020, throwing 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions. So he throws balls very well indeed.)

Fallon then asked her if she’s spent much time in Green Bay and if she is a football fan. “I didn’t really grow up with sports, especially American sports. It was never really on my radar,” she explained. “When we met, also, I knew he was a football guy, but I didn’t know like what kind of a football guy he was. And I’m still constantly learning.”

Despite Rodgers’ legendary career — he took Green Bay to the NFC Championship this year and led Green Bay to a Super Bowl in 2010 — Woodley doesn’t know much about football. “I still have never been to a football game,” Woodley said. That includes this past season: because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Packers stadium was closed. And before she met Rodgers, she hadn’t even watched a game on TV. “Before I met him, I’d never seen one football game,” she said.

“When we met, I knew he was a football guy, but I didn’t know what kind of a football guy he was,” said Woodley. “I am still constantly learning. I don’t get it. He’s good. He’s great. But, like, I don’t understand. Because I don’t know him as the football guy! I know him as like, the nerd who wants to host Jeopardy! That’s the dude I know. He just happens to also be very good at sports.”

The engagement took many by surprise, but E! Online quoted a source who echoed Woodley’s nonchalance. “It’s a quick engagement, but for those that know them, it didn’t come as a surprise.” The source added:  “They had a very intense connection from the beginning. They both knew early on that it was something special and different from what they had experienced in other relationships.” The source also revealed: “They have spent the entire fall together and lived together throughout.”

The engagement is remarkable not just for its rapid pace but for the unusually private way that it unfolded. The two have yet to even be photographed together! Elle magazine described their relationship as “private and low-key” in an article earlier this month. Also remarkable: the sudden shift in Rodgers’ closely guarded personal life. Rodgers, who turned 37 last year, has never married and has no children. For viewers like me, who thought of him as a career-centered, eternal bachelor, the news comes as a shock.

Until now, Rodgers was something of a statistical anomaly. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, 72% of men will marry by age 37. And 76% of men are married by 40. According to a 2009 data brief by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The probability that men will marry by age 40 is 81%; for women, it is 86%.”

J.J. Watt Leaving Texans

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 12, 2021

Defensive end J.J. Watt has asked for (and received) a release from the Houston Texans. Watt announced the news in a video posted to his Twitter account, explaining that he personally met with the McNair family to request a release from the team. “I have sat down with the McNair family, and I have asked them for my release, and we have mutually agreed to part ways.”

Watt reflected on his time in Houston, which was memorable on both professional and personal levels. “I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it,” he said. “The city of Houston’s been unbelievable to me; it’s where I met my wife. It’s where I’ve met lifelong friends, and my teammates. I’ve had incredible coaches and training staff, and equipment staff and cafeteria workers […] the connection is special, and I will never, ever take it for granted,” Watt said. “I just want you guys to now that I love you, I appreciate you, I appreciate the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston. I love you.”

After ten tumultuous seasons, Watt’s time in Houston is over.

The release comes after a memorable career (so far). Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks, with 101. (Since 2011, only Broncos defender Von Miller has had more sacks, according to ESPN.. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2016). Watt is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. (Only Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald have achieved that.) He was also voted the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year, after raising over $37 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Watt’s time in Houston, though stellar, was marked by injuries — and in recent months by frustration with the franchise. After trading away its best receiver (DeAndre Hopkins), the Texans franchsie came under fire by pundits and fans. And after firing head coach Bill O’Brien (after a disastrous 1-4 start), the Texans lost. And lost. And lost some more.

Weeks ago, the Texans lost in a blowout: 36-7, to the Chicago Bears. That loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention. The week before, the Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts. With less than 30 seconds left, Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled at the two-yard line. It was the second time this season the team has lost to Indianapolis after a goal-line fumble. The Texans lost to the Colts, 27-20.

Later, they lost again, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his shoulder grabbed by Bengal Sam Hubbard, causing a strip-sack with 1:28 left. Cincinnati sealed their historic road win with a field goal. Despite Watson’s three touchdowns, the Texans lost, 37-31. It was their fourth straight loss. They went 4-11.

Defensive end J.J. Watt was visibly frustrated after the loss. In a postgame press conference, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year delivered an angry, emotional rant peppered with curses. He expressed recognition of his privileged position and sympathy for Texans fans. But Watt also called out his teammates for a lack of professionalism.

“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said. “If you can’t come in, put in work in the building, go out to the practice field, work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not  be here. This is a job. We’re getting paid a whole lot of money. There are a whole lot of people that watch us and invest their time and money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s–t. And they care about it; they care every single week. We’re in Week 16, and we’re 4-11, and there’s fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium, that put in time and energy and effort and care about this. So if you can’t go out there and you can’t work out, you can’t show up on time, you can’t practice, you can’t want to go out there to win, you shouldn’t be here.

Because this is a privilege. It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even when you’re in week 17 — even when you’re trash, when you’re 4-11 — if you can’t go out there and give it everything you have and try your hardest, that’s bulls–t,” he said. “There are people every week that still Tweet you, that still come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’re still rooting for you, we’re still behind you.’ They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care, and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That’s why. Those people aren’t getting paid. We’re being paid handsomely. That’s why. That’s who I feel the most bad for, are our fans, the people who care so deeply in this city, and love it and who truly want it to be great. And it’s not. And that sucks as a player, to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”

UPDATE (March 2, 2021): J.J. Watt has signed a two-year, $31 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. News of the signing broke yesterday, reported by outlets including ESPN and the NFL Network. This move reunites him with former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who was a wide receiver for the Texans before a controversial trade last year. Today, in an introductory press conference, Watt was asked about Texans QB Deshaun Watson, who remains in a standoff with the team after informing them he no longer wants to play for them.

“”I love Deshaun. We speak often… He’s a special human being. The one thing I want for Deshaun Watson is for him to be happy,” Watt said. “He deserves it, and I want him to be happy. Whatever that looks like for him, that’s what I want for him.”

Jennifer King Becomes First Black Woman to Coach in NFL

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 30, 2021

This week, the Washington Football Team promoted intern Jennifer King to full-time assistant running bacs coach. This makes King the first Black woman to land a full-time coaching position in the league. She is the first Black female assistant coach in the NFL.

King, 36, understands the significance of her promotion. “Representation means so much,” she told ESPN. “I didn’t have anyone that looked anything like me working. To be able to see that, I think, is big. It’s super cool to be a part of this.”

King has a long history in athletics. According to the Washington Post, she was a two-sport athlete at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She finished her career 3rd on the team’s all-time scoring list, with 1,601 points. She also played softball there.

After graduating, King became an assistant coach for Greensboro College. She helped lead their women’s basketball team to five regular-season conference titles during her 10-year tenure. (She served in her role from 2006 to 2016, according to ESPN.) She also played quarterback and wide receiver for the Carolina Phoenix in the Women’s Football Alliance from 2006 to 2017.

King then served as head coach for the Johnson and Wales women’s basketball team from 2016-2018, per ESPN. From 2018-2019, King led the Johnson and Wales team to a national championship, was named the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association’s coach of the year, and interned for the Carolina Panthers. King says she was inspired to coach in the NFL by Katie Sowers, who served as a training assistant for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. (Sowers spent four seasons as offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers before leaving this month. She became the first woman ever to coach in a Super Bowl when the 49ers played that game last year.)

Please check back for further updates.

Bucs Best Saints in Divisional Game

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 17, 2021

In what may be Drew Brees’ final game, his New Orleans Saints battled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the New Orleans Superdome. The Buccaneers cashed in on four turnovers to win out over the Saints, 30-20.

There wasn’t a ton of offense early on. Saints kicker Wil Lutz kicked two field goals for New Orleans. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop made a field goal to make it 6-3. After the field goal, Brees was intercepted by Bucs’ Murphy-Bunting. Murphy-Bunting returned the pick for 36 yards. That set up a touchdown pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans. That gave Tampa Bay a 10-6 lead.

Taysom Hill tossed the ball to Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw deep across the field to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. That 56-yard touchdown made it 13-10. The Bucs got the ball back and settled for a field goal after a would-be touchdown by Chris Godwin got overturned. Succop nailed the field goal to tie the game. It was 13-13 at the half.

In the second half, turnovers made the difference. Brees found Tre’Quan Smith for the touchdown. The Saints had a 20-13 lead, but it was all downhill from there. On the Bucs’ drive, Ronald Jones too off; the Saints defense surrounded him, but he still pushed forward for the first down. Then Bucs running back Leonard Fournette ran in for the touchdown. The game was again tied, at 20-20.

The Saints went three-and-out. But the Buccaneers had a socring drive. An incredible 15-yard catch by Tyler Johnson wowed observers, and Scotty Miller had a big catch after that. A 29-yard completion on 3rd and 5 helped set up another Succop field goal. That made it 23-20.

On the Saints’ next drive, Brees was picked by Devin White. That was his third turnover of the game, and Tampa Bay cashed in. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a pass from Brady — his first catch of the postseason. Gronk’s 13-yard catch put the Buccaneers at 1st and goal. Then Brady scored with a 1-yard touchdown run! That extended the Bucs’ lead.

With the fourth quarter ticking away, the Saints had little time to mount a comeback. But Brees got picked off again — the fourth turnover by the Saints. The Bucs held on to the ball just long enough to last past the two-minute warning. They won, 30-20. Brady is now on his way to his 14th conference championship. The Buccaneers will play the Green Bay Packers in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

During the game, word broke that this will be the last game Drew Brees plays at the Superdome. NFL analyst Jay Glazer reported today that Brees will retire after the season concludes. Brees will retire as the all-time leader in passing yards and completions. He helped bring New Orleans a Super Bowl title after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And as he left the Superdome, Brees turned back, giving his home stadium of nearly 20 years one last look.

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UPDATE: NFL reporter James Palmer shared a video of Brady and Brees chatting on the field after tonight’s game. The two quarterbacks were joined on the field by their kids. Brady even played catch with one of Brees’ sons. After he caught the ball in the end zone, Brady remarked: “We could’ve used you tonight!” Palmer captured a sweet moment:

Titans Blow 16-Point Lead, But Hold Off Texans For Incredible Win

Photo by the author.

By Terrance Turner

Today, the Tennessee Titans made the playoffs with a loss by Miami. They slugged it out with the Houston Texans today in an edge-of-your-seat match that went right down to the wire. Today’s match started off slow, with a field goal apiece by both teams. But at the start of the second quarter, the offense lit up. Titans running back Derrick Henry took off, breaking tackles — including one by defensive end J.J. Watt — to streak down the field for the touchdow. Henry scored the game’s first touchdown, putting the Titans ahead 10-3.

After another field goal by the Texans, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill found receiver A.J. Brown for the touchdown. That extended the Titans’ lead, making it 17-6. A touchdown on the Texans’ drive was overturned; receiver Brandin Cooks stepped just outside the lines as he caught the ball. The Texans settled for a field goal, which Fairbairn kicked through. It was 17-9 at halftime.

As the second half began, the Titans put together a drive that included a 29-yard catch-and-run by Brown (?) and a crucial catch by tight end Anthony Firkser. The Firkser catch took the team into the end zone. Then Tannehill handed the ball to Henry, who jogged untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. That made it 24-9.

But the Texans put together a winning drive of their own. Watson found Cooks for the TD. But kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point. That made it a nine-point game. Tennessee padded the lead again on their next drive. The key, again, was Henry, who broke three tackles and slammed into another Texans defender as he ran. Then, as a fifth Texans defender tried to tackle him, Henry spun and landed on the ground, near the five-yard line. Tannehill kept the ball and dashed into the end zone to make it 31-15.

Watson found Cooks for another TD. But the two-point conversion failed, making it 31-21. The Texans caught a break, however, on the Titans’ next drive. Henry fumbled the ball. The Texans recovered and rapidly made it to the goal line. David Johnson ran in for the touchdown. That made it a three-point game: 31-28.

A.J. Brown made a crucial catch for the first down. Texans’ Charles Omenihu hit Tannehill in the face just after he threw the ball. Omenihu was flagged for roughing the passer, which added 15 yards to the end of the play. Automatic first down. The Texans later scored. Pharoah Brown caught the touchdown, to give the Texans the lead. They led for the first time — 35-31 — after scoring 20 unanswered points.

With time ticking away, the Titans mounted a drive. A rushing touchdown by Henry was wiped out by a holding call from the refs — which even the announcers disagreed with. But no challenge flag was thrown. The clock ran down even further, hitting the two-minute warning.

As the clock ran under 2:00, Tannehill made a run for it, getting all the way to the half-yard line. The Texans defense kept him from crossing the goal line. Tannehill eventually scored. But the refs again took the touchdown away, alleging illegal formation by the Titans. But with just 1:42 left, Tannehill tried again. This time, it worked: running diagonally towards the sideline, Tannehill finally scored. That gave the Titans a tenuous 38-35 lead.

The Texans were flagged on the extra-point try (for illegal formation) and then again on their punt return (for holding). The latter penalty cost the Texans 10 yards. Then — in an eerie example of history repeating itself — Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler got another joint catch. In a play similar to that of the Titans-Colts game, Butler caught the ball at the same time as Cooks. The refs upheld the original call of a completed catch by Cooks. That gave the Texans a chance.

After a heart-stopping last-chance drive, the Texans were forced to kick a field goal. Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed a 51-yard field goal to tie the game!

With the game tied at 38, the Titans had 18 seconds to put together a drive. Just when he needed to, Tannehill reared back and hurled a 54-yard pass, which was caught by A.J. Brown. That incredible catch put the Titans in field-goal range; Henry ran a few more yards to put the Titans closer. With four seconds left, the Titans attempted a field goal. Their kicker Stephen Gostkowski was out; a rookie was taking his place.

Somehow, the rookie made good. Samuel Sloman’s 37-yard field goal was a showstopper: the ball veered to the right, bounced off the upright and somehow went through. The result shocked everyone, but Henry’s reaction was one for the books:

The Titans win, 41-38. With this win (their 11th), they have won the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Not only have they made the playoffs, they have won their division. As usual, their strong running game was a key to their success. (The Titans are now the only franchise to have TWO running backs both achieve over 2,000 yards in a season.) And as usual, the motor for their high-powered offense was Derrick Henry.

Henry has won the rushing title for the second straight year. Henry’s 2,027 yards are the fifth-most ever in one season, per NBC Sports. He is only the eighth player in NFL history to have 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. And according to Yahoo! Sports writer Frank Schwab, he’s the first to achieve that since Adrian Peterson in 2012. Henry, according to Fifth Quarter Stats, has now rushed for 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns for the 3rd time this season. He is the 1st player in NFL history to accomplish this feat.

But it was the climactic, heart-stopping field goal by Titans kicker Samuel Sloman that sealed the game. Players on both teams reacted with shock and awe. But for the Titans, that surprise quickly gave way to jubilation — and celebration.

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Titans celebrate their unforgettable win today. Photo from Twitter (@Titans).

J.J. Watt Delivers Epic Rant After Latest Texans Loss; Watson Seeks Trade (UPDATED)

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 27, 2020 (Updated Dec. 30, Jan. 7)

Photo from Getty Images.

The Texans lost. Again.

It’s not the first time that’s happened this season. Two weeks ago, the Texans lost in a blowout: 36-7, to the Chicago Bears. That loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention.

Last week, the Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts. With less than 30 seconds left, Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled at the two-yard line. It was the second time this season the team has lost to Indianapolis after a goal-line fumble. The Texans lost to the Colts, 27-20.

Today, they lost again, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his shoulder grabbed by Bengal Sam Hubbard, causing a strip-sack with 1:28 left. Cincinnati sealed their historic road win with a field goal. Despite Watson’s three touchdowns, the Texans lost, 37-31.

It’s their fourth straight loss. After a season in which their coach was fired, their best receiver was traded, and their offense stifled, the Texans have lost 73% of their games. They are now 4-11.

Defensive end J.J. Watt was visibly frustrated after the loss. In a postgame press conference, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year delivered an angry, emotional rant peppered with curses. He expressed recognition of his privileged position and sympathy for Texans fans. But Watt also called out his teammates for a lack of professionalism.

“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said. “If you can’t come in, put in work in the building, go out to the practice field, work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not  be here. This is a job. We’re getting paid a whole lot of money. There are a whole lot of people that watch us and invest their time and money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s–t. And they care about it; they care every single week. We’re in Week 16, and we’re 4-11, and there’s fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium, that put in time and energy and effort and care about this. So if you can’t go out there and you can’t work out, you can’t show up on time, you can’t practice, you can’t want to go out there to win, you shouldn’t be here.

Because this is a privilege. It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even when you’re in week 17 — even when you’re trash, when you’re 4-11 — if you can’t go out there and give it everything you have and try your hardest, that’s bulls–t,” he said. “There are people every week that still Tweet you, that still come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’re still rooting for you, we’re still behind you.’ They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care, and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That’s why. Those people aren’t getting paid. We’re being paid handsomely. That’s why. That’s who I feel the most bad for, are our fans, the people who care so deeply in this city, and love it and who truly want it to be great. And it’s not. And that sucks as a player, to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”

Watch the now-viral moment below.

UPDATE (Dec. 30): The Texans have closed their facility today after two players (safety Eric Murray and linebacker Whitney Mercilus) tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, players were not allowed to enter the team facility. Instead, they did a walk-through on the practice field and then met virtually.

“Because we have had some positives, we are basically not letting the players into the facility,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said on Zoom from NRG Stadium. “But we are having a walkthrough where we’ll work for about an hour and then they’ll leave. They are not using the facility. They come in. We walk through and they leave. We are hoping to cut down on the interaction with players when you’re not on the football field. Everybody is wearing masks and we’ll get some fundamental work done we need to get done.”

UPDATE: The Texans lost their final game of the season to the Tennessee Titans (who win the AFC South). After the Texans’ 41-38 loss on Sunday, Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson shared a poignant moment. A video has surfaced of the two walking back to the locker room after the loss. “I’m sorry,” Watt tells Watson. “We wasted one of your years.”

UPDATE (Jan. 7, 2021): Rumors are swirling that Watson may be seeking a trade. NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk intimates that “Watson has quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade.” Trading him would result in a cap charge of $21.6 million. 

Veteran Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain seems convinced that Watson’s not going anywhere, and a KHOU sports reporter tonight snarkily remarked that the trade story “was written for some clicks on a website.” But just moments ago, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that Watson is unhappy with the Texans organization (who isn’t?) after being left out of crucial personnel decisions:

“Watson offered his input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback, league sources told ESPN. “Additionally, the Texans did not inform Watson that they intended to hire Caserio, and he found out about the hire Tuesday on social media. That contributed to Watson taking to Twitter that night to post “some things never change….”

Albert Breer says that Watson advocated for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to be head coach — but the Texans refused to even interview him, further irking Watson. Over the weekend, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Watson is still angry about the Texans’ “insensitivity to social justices, including hiring practices,” alluding to the team failing to interview Eric Bieniemy. (UPDATE: the Texans finally did request to interview Bieniemy today, Jan, 12. But the window to contact him has closed.)

Rapoport adds that Watson has not spoken to Texans brass in days — though they have tried to call him. This gives new grist to the rumor mill that Watson may be looking for greener pastures. At least one former Texans player is suggesting that some teams may be interested in Watson:

UPDATE: A Texans legend has weighed in on the situation. Legendary Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson set tongues wagging with a tweet today: “If I’m @deshaunwatson I will stand my ground,” Johnson wrote. “The Texans organization is known for wasting players careers. Since Jack Easterby has walk into the building nothing good has happened in/for the organization and for some reason someone can’t seem to see what’s going on. Pathetic!!!”

Johnson’s tweet took a shot at Texans VP of football operations Jack Easterby, which generated lots of online chatter. But former Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins backed Johnson up, quoting Johnson’s original tweet and adding: “When Dre speak listen.”

UPDATE: Former Texans tight end Joel Dreessen also backed Johnson. Asked for comment, Dreessen tweeted: “All I know is when Dre would speak, he was always worth listening to. I don’t know Easterby at all, but it pains me to see how badly the Texans have been put in reverse. Whether it was him or BOB [former head coach Bill O’Brien] who chased off players like Duane, Clowney, Hopkins…& gave up 1st round picks.”

UPDATE (Jan. 29, 2021): Deshaun Watson formally requested a trade from the Texans yesterday, just hours after the team announced they’d hired David Culley as the team’s new head coach. But when Culley was introduced as coach during a Zoom teleconference today, Texans general manager Nick Caserio was clear in his objection.

“I just want to reiterate our commitment to Deshaun Watson,” he said. “We have zero interest in trading the player. We have a great plan and vision for him. We look forward to spending more time with him.” Culley added: “The reason I’m in this position today is because I know he’s going to be a Houston Texan.”

UPDATE (Feb. 2): There are now reports swirling that multiple teams are interested in trading for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Las Begas Review-Journal reporter Vincent Bonsignore is reporting that the Raiders may pursue Deshaun Watson in exchange for Carr: “Increased demand for his services, insiders say, could create a scenario in which a three-team trade allows the Raiders to acquire Watson.”

The Raiders’ moves are not clear yet. But a potential deal could involve the team receiving two first-round draft picks and then pairing them with their own 2021-22 draft picks. They could then present all these picks as a package for the Texans.

UPDATE (March 2, 2021): J.J. Watt has signed a two-year, $31 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. News of the signing broke yesterday, reported by outlets including ESPN and the NFL Network. This move reunites him with former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who was a wide receiver for the Texans before a controversial trade last year. Today, in an introductory press conference, Watt was asked about Texans QB Deshaun Watson, who remains in a standoff with the team after informing them he no longer wants to play for them.

“The one thing I want for Deshaun Watson is for him to be happy,” Watt said. “He deserves it, and I want him to be happy. Whatever that looks like for him, that’s what I want for him.”

Check back for more updates.

Rockets Trade Star James Harden to Brooklyn Nets

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 23, 2020 (Updated Jan. 13, 2021)

The Houston Rockets were supposed to begin their NBA season at 7:00 pm tonight (Dec. 23), playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston’s Toyota Center. But tonight’s game has been postponed in accordance with the team’s Health and Safety Protocols. The NBA released a statement saying that three of the Rockets have tested positive (or inconclusive) for COVID-19. Four others are quarantined due to contact tracing. Additionally, Rockets star James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of Health and Safety Protocols.

Two days after reportedly hurling a basketball at a teammate during practice, Rockets superstar James Harden is now unable to play. ESPN reporter Tim McMahon tweeted earlier today: “Rockets are working with NBA office to review video of James Harden at a strip club. If the video circulating on social media is verified to be recent, it is a violation of league’s COVID protocols, which could put Harden’s availability for tonight’s opener in jeopardy.”

Harden responded to the report on Instagram, writing (in part): “I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different.” McMahon responded by quoting the tweet, adding: “By doing so, he violates the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, which prohibit players from going to bars, lounges or clubs or social events with more than 15 people.”

Meanwhile, fellow Rockets John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins may also be ineligible for tonight’s game due to contract tracing. This is despite the fact that Wall, Cousins, and Harden have all tested negative for COVID-19. ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne adds: “James Harden tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, league source tells ESPN. The league is still reviewing his situation and eligibility for tonight’s game.” So Harden’s night at the club might cost him a spot on the starting roster tonight.

The club in question appears to be very near Toyota Center, where the Rockets will play in tonight’s home opener. The Houston Chronicle adds: “The venue was listed as private, but several Instagram users tagged The Velvet Room on Main, located near downtown about a mile from Toyota Center.” This isn’t the first time Harden’s partying has posed an issue: he missed practice on Dec. 6 because he was in Las Vegas, apparently at a nightclub. Just days before, Harden was seen maskless in Atlanta, celebrating the birthday of rapper Lil’ Baby. Harden gifted the “Emotionally Scarred” rapper with a Prada bag, filled with Honey Buns, bands of cash, and a Richard Mille. “He got me a Prada bag, ’cause he Prada me,” Lil’ Baby said at the time.

https://twitter.com/TheNBACentral/status/1334851330570137601

This is far from the only issue between Harden and the Rockets, though. Harden has requested a trade, and he skirted questions about his future when he spoke to reporters this week. But the writing is on the wall: Harden is visibly unhappy in Houston, and he and the Rockets appear headed for an ugly divorce. But how did we get here?

To hear McMahon tell it, the seeds of trouble had been planted years before, with a Rockets culture that often catered to its star. In fact, one former staffer described the Houston Rockets’ culture thus: “Whatever James wants.”

McMahon’s article asserts that Harden calls the shots on both the playing roster and coaching staff. He also exercised considerable sway on travel and playing schedules, too. If the Rockets had two or three days between games, Harden would likely call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from practice after the All-Star break for that very reason.

“If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff told McMahon. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.” Indeed, Harden had his third triple-double in six games back in January 2019. His 43-point performance led to a dominant Rockets win — one of 53 wins in the 2018-2019 season. The previous year had been even better.

Powered by Harden’s brilliant performances, the Houston Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games during the 2017-18 season. Harden was named league MVP, per ESPN. The Rockets jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals. But thanks to 27 missed three-pointers — and Chris Paul’s raggedy hamstrings — the Rockets lost the last two games of the series in their home stadium! That loss to the Warriors marked the beginning of the end for the Paul-Harden era in Houston.

McMahon reports that the relationship soured leading up to the summer of 2019. Paul reportedly grew frustrated that Harden would disengage from the offense whenever the ball wasn’t in his hands. “Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D’Antoni to implement more structure and movement,” writes McMahon. Things deteriorated further when the Rockets lost in the playoffs to the Warriors.

In June 2019, Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported that the relationship had become “unsalvageable”: “Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said. The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.” Harden denied the report, saying: “Me and Chris had constant communication, and we’re good.”

Yet Paul was gone a month later. The Rockets were reportedly willing to go another season with its unhappy stars…until Russell Westbrook became available. Harden pushed hard for a deal, saying he’d demand a trade if Houston didn’t make it happen. The Rockets agreed, trading Paul for two draft picks and some swap options. Harden was soon reunited with Westbrook, his OKC teammate (and childhood friend).

Initially, things worked beautifully. In a February game vs. the Boston Celtics, Westbrook and Harden combined for 62 points. That capped a month where they were ranked second and third, respectively, in NBA scoring. Westbrook averaged about 33 points during the month, while Harden averaged 31.9. They’re the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 30 points and 5 rebounds apiece.

Everything seemed to be working — and then the pandemic happened. COVID-19 forced the league to suspend its season in March 2020. Over the spring and early summer, a plan was formed to return to play. The NBA resumed play on July 30 in the “NBA Bubble” — the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. There, the Rockets lost in the conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers (the eventual NBA Champions).

On Nov. 11, a bombshell report in The Athletic revealed that Rockets star Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston. Why? “Westbrook has informed team officials that he has been uneasy about the team’ accountability and culture,” three Athletic reporters wrote. “Westbrook, sources say, has made it known for quite some time that he would like to see significant changes to the Rockets culture. Specifically, his desire for more team-wide accountability, discipline, and culture have been the focus of talks with team officials.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon put it more bluntly: “Houston’s casual culture appalled Westbrook. In Oklahoma City, despite the fact that he enjoyed the same sort of superstar privileges as Harden has had in Houston, the Thunder operated with the discipline of a military unit under Westbrook’s watch. The Rockets were a stark contrast,” McMahon wrote on Dec. 16. “With the Rockets, scheduled departure times were treated as mere suggestions by Harden and others.”

“Nothing ever starts on time,” a former Rockets staffer told McMahon. “The plane is always late. The bus is never on time…it’s just an organized AAU team.” But that laissez-faire attitude didn’t sit well with Westbrook. McMahon asserts: “Westbrook didn’t tolerate tardiness.” Case in point: on one occasion in “the bubble” in Florida, Harden waited to undergo testing for COVID-19 until just before the Rockets began watching film. Westbrook grew impatient: “Start the film!” he barked. “Start without him!” Then-coach Mike D’Antoni explained that they’d just have to start the film over when Harden arrived, but Westbrook was still peeved. But that was the way it was…

Once the pandemic began and “the bubble” was filled, Houston’s bubble burst. After yet another player loss (this time to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers), the Rockets were at a crossroads. Westbrook wanted out. Within days of the bombshell Athletic story about his quest for accountability, Westbrook requested a trade. The Rockets acquiesced. They traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a lottery pick in early December.

Now, the may have to do the same with James Harden.

UPDATE: After back-to-back losses to the Lakers — including last night’s 117-100 Lakers win — it may be the end of the road for James Harden in Houston. In a Zoom postgame interview last night, Harden was blunt about the 3-6 Rockets: “We’re just not good enough,” Harden said. “Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It was clear these last few games from the beginning of the game. [The Lakers] were just aggressive. A veteran team, obviously, a championship team. One of the best teams we have in this league.”

Harden also expressed a belief that the situation may be unsalvageable. “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can,” Harden said. “This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks.” With that, Harden rose and left the room.

One of Harden’s teammates had a lot to say about that. When asked how he felt about Harden’s comments, newly acquired Rocket DeMarcus Cousins was blunt: “Obviously, it’s disrespectful. But everybody has a right to their opinion. You know? We feel a certain type of way about some of his actions. You know, this is — this is the nasty part of the business that kind of gets swept under the rug. You deal with these type of things, and you know, when guys are in positions of being, you know, franchise players and whatever that may be, it’s usually sometimes a nasty breakup. Like I said, that’s all part of the business,” Cousins continued.

A reporter asked Cousins: “As someone who signed here as a free agent, do you feel betrayed? Do you feel like it was unfair to you to have chosen to sign here […] and then have the star player want to leave?” Cousins was equally forthright in his answers.

“Me, personally, I don’t feel betrayed at all. My interest was playing with John Wall to be brutally honest,” Cousins said. “With that being said, the disrespect started way before any interview — just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, the antics off the court. I mean, the disrespect started way before, so this isn’t something that all of a sudden happened,” Cousins said. “Like I said this is the nasty part of the business, Cousins said. “It is what it is.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon asked: “At this point, is there any way that you guys can play with James harden again?” Cousins answered: “I don’t really think that’s a question for us. I think that’s a question for him: will he ever be willing to play with us again? I don’t know. Quite honestly, don’t care.” Follow-up question: “And when you talk about disrespect, what specifically are you talking about?” McMahon asked.

“I just feel like there’s a way about handling business,” Cousins responded. “He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization or whatever his current situation is. But the other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. So for us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and antics, it’s completely unfair to us.”

“I wasn’t disrespectful to anyone,” Harden now claims. “I just made a comment that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title.” But those comments came days after The Athletic reported that at least two teams are interested in acquiring Harden. The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both made offers to the Rockets, per reporters Shams Charania and Sam Amick. But only one of those teams would prevail.

BREAKING (Jan. 13, 2021): The Houston Rockets have traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive blockbuster deal. The Rockets will receive four first-round picks and four pick swaps, all of which will come from the Nets — except for a 2022 Milwaukee pick currently owned by Cleveland. Houston will also receive Caris LeVert, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, according to CBS Sports.

UPDATE (Feb. 20, 2021): Five weeks to the day after Harden was traded, reports have surfaced that former teammate DeMarcus Cousins is also headed out of Houston. Athletic writer Shams Charania says Cousins and the team plan to part ways in coming days. “Houston wants to go smaller, younger in frontcourt when Christian Wood returns and this allows Cousins to find an opportunity elsewhere,” Charania wrote on Twitter.

This begs the question: will Cousins return to Los Angeles, where he (technically) won a ring with the Lakers earlier this year? (Cousins suffered a season-ending knee injury after getting signed, but he was still on the roster when the Lakers won — meaning he is technically still eligible for a ring.) Will he head back to LA?

Stay tuned.

Chiefs Best Saints for Ninth Straight Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 20, 2020

It got close late, but the Kansas City Chiefs got the win today in New Orleans. The Chiefs edged the New Orleans Saints to win today’s highly anticipated match, 32-29. It was the Chiefs’ ninth straight win. That gives them a record of 13-1 for the season — the best record in the NFL.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Saints won the opening coin toss and gave the Chiefs the first opportunity with the ball. “Patrick Mahomes and company came out with a good play to start the drive, getting a first down quickly. However, the Saints defense was able to counter and get off the field on a 3rd-and-5 after Mahomes couldn’t hit Tyreek Hill. Drew Brees officially returned to the field for New Orleans, but the team’s first drive resulted in a three-and-out after he couldn’t get Tre’Quan Smith for the conversion.”

The second Chiefs drive resulted in their own three-and-out. The Saints had an early interception on Mahomes, courtesy of Marcus Williams. But an illegal contact penalty by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins wiped that out. Jenkins followed up by making a 5-yard tackle for loss on a Tyreek Hill catch. New Orleans would hold firm on the next plays, forcing a punt after a great pass breakup down field from C.J. Gardner-Johnson on Mecole Hardman.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees got picked off by L’Jarius Sneed, giving the Chiefs the ball. They cashed in a few plays later. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a big third-down conversion and then scrambled 13 yards to the Saints’ 11-yard line. Then he found wide receiver Tyreek Hill for a 5-yard touchdown, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.

They would add to that lead later. After a three-and-out by the Saints, the Chiefs took over and scored again. Mahomes connected with Kelce for a touchdown early in the second quarter. That gave Kansas City a 14-0 lead as the quarter got underway. (Kelce’s 10 touchdowns this year tie a career high.) The Saints got the ball. QB Drew Brees found WR Emmanuel Sanders for a 51-yard completion. Three plays later, he connected with Taysom Hill for the touchdown. That TD capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive for New Orleans and put them on the board, 14-7.

With 10:21 left in the quarter, both teams embarked on unsuccessful drives. Both teams ended up having to punt. Andrus Peat got hurt on the Saints drive and limped his way to the locker room. After another unsuccessful drive, Chiefs punt returner Demarcus Robinson got stripped of the ball. It went out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. The score was 14-9 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Saints went 75 yards in 4 plays, per SI. They hit paydirt when Brees hooked up with running back Latavius Murray for a 24-yard scoop-and-score. That gave them the lead, 15-14. But a two-point conversion attempt was no good. So it remained a one-point game in the New Orleans Superdome…but not for long.

On their drive, Mahomes stunned viewers and announcers with a dramatic scoring play. He launched a narrow pass to receiver Mecole Hardman, who caught the ball, planted his foot, and then dragged the other to make the catch. At first it appeared that the catch and been out of bounds, but upon replay it was clear that Hardman — somehow — had made the catch. It put the Chiefs ahead 21-15.

There was a wild sequence in the fourth quarter. Saints defender Cameron Jordan tangled with #77 from the Chiefs and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The referee later added that Jordan had thrown a punch, which connected. Jordan was disqualified from the game. On the very next play, Mahomes tossed the ball to running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed in for the touchdown. Kelce surged into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion. That gave them a commanding 29-15 lead.

The Saints would score afterward, courtesy of RB Alvin Kamara. That made it 29-22. But the Chiefs tacked on a field goal (by Harrison Butker) to extend the lead. The Saints countered with another score of their own, but it was too late. The Chiefs won, 32-29.

This was a significant game on several fronts. This was the first meeting between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. It was Brees’ first game back in nearly a month — he suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung (!!!) in the last game he played. And his return was against a quarterback his own kids love.

Reporter Tracy Wolfson said that Brees’ three sons want Chiefs jerseys for Christmas — one boy wants a signed jersey from Mahomes, another a jersey from Hill, another from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Speaking of Edwards-Helaire, he suffered what looked like a gruesome leg injury towards the end of the game. But it may not be as severe as it appeared: he reportedly has a high-ankle sprain and a strained hip. Edwards-Helaire may be rehabbed in time for next month’s divisional playoff game.

Update (Dec. 21, 2020): Both Mahomes and Kelce have been selected for this year’s Pro Bowl. They are among seven Chiefs to be voted into the game; the Packers and Seahawks also have seven players apiece. Kelce is also nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which honors players for excellence on the field and for their volunteer/charity work.

Clemson Wins Big In Rematch With Notre Dame

By Terrance Turner

They lost in double overtime in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. But the Clemson Tigers tonight avenged their only loss of the season. They won today’s match against the Fighting Irish 34-10. Their dominant performance earned them their sixth ACC Championship. A key ingredient of their winning formula today was the star turn by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (who missed the first match versus Notre Dame, due to COVID-19).

Lawrence had an interception early, and Clemson went scoreless on the opening drive. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored first with a successful field goal drive. Clemson’s defense necessitated another field goal on a subsequent drive. But Notre Dame’s kicker missed the field goal attempt, leaving them with only three points.

Clemson cashed in. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence launched a pass to receiver Amari Rodgers, who took off for the touchdown. That 67-yard reception gave Clemson a 7-3 lead. They extended the lead later, after a daring sequence. Lawrence escapes a sack to run six yards. Then, on 2nd and 4, Lawrence found E.J. Williams for a 33-yard touchdown. Clemson later added a field goal to make it 17-3.

On a later drive, Lawrence acted as blocker! He stopped a Notre Dame safety from tackling Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Then, on 4th and 1, Etienne took off, running footloose and free into the end zone. That rushing TD made it 24-3 at the half.

There were no points scored in the third quarter…until Lawrence got off to the races. With 3:43 left in the quarter and a ball tucked into one arm, Lawrence sprinted 34 yards for another touchdown. His stunning score made it 31-3. After missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, Lawrence has stormed back to put his team ahead by four touchdowns. In the end. Lawrence was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after he completed 25-of-36 passes for 322 yards, with two passing touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and a season-high 90 yards, the second-most of his career.

That was pretty much all she wrote. Clemson’s Nolan Turner was disqualified in the fourth quarter for targeting (on a helmet-to-helmet hit to a Notre Dame player). Notre Dame eventually did score a touchdown, but it was for naught. Clemson won 34-10, winning the ACC Championship. Lawrence becomes the first quarterback to win three ACC Championships.

“This team has been through a lot this year,” Lawrence said, adding that “we’ve gotten so much better. I’m really proud of this team.” And for good reason: the Tigers avenged their only loss this season and are now 11-1. This is the 4th straight Clemson Senior class with 50 wins in four years. “Of all the teams I’ve had, this team deserves it the most,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. He added that achieving 10 wins is hard in any season — “but in this season, it’s almost miraculous.”

Swinney added: “It would be a cryin’ shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence.”

QB Trevor Lawrence acknowledges the crowd during today’s ACC Championship Game.
Photo courtesy of Twitter.