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Houston Sports Census 2011: A Tale Of Two Cities

Drawing parallels between the teams that lose because they're not lucky and the ones that lose because they're poorly managed.

One of the strongest compliments you can give the city of Houston is that you'll meet all types here. Just about every culture has their own little cut of the city, and they all work in common to bring their best to it.

Unfortunately, the one thing just about every professional sport based out of the city has in common these last few years is losing. Houston has not seen a professional playoff game involving one of it's teams since the Dynamo were eliminated by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Western Conference Finals on November 13th, 2009. The number of cities who have three or more professional franchises who have longer playoff droughts than Houston? Zero. Even Cleveland, hometown of sports-related misery, has seen a Cavaliers playoff game grace it in the teens. Just don't ask them about what happened afterwards. 

Houston has hosted two Texas Bowls and a Final Four since then, but even those have been muted somewhat by mediocre teams and the Connecticut Huskies being the first-ever tenants of Reliant Stadium to understand how to play defense.

Despite the constant misery of late, I'd argue that what we really have is two distinct classes of Houston sports teams: the ill-fated and the poorly conceived. 

Team Poorly Conceived (Astros, Texans)

The similarities between these two teams are much closer than you might think on paper, which scares the part of me that's a Texans fan. Lets start up top, where Drayton McLane and Bob McNair have never been shy about spending money to win. Unfortunately, because of a poor power setup (McLane's post-Gerry Hunsicker meddling and the Texans inability to put together a clear hierarchy of command) the teams have crippled themselves into a couple of staggeringly mediocre clubs.

Both clubs are pretty good on one side of the ball. The Texans have one of the best offenses in the NFL, led by a trio of Top 10 players at their position in Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, and Arian Foster. The Astros, despite the fact that they don't boast any aces of renown, have put together a very steady pitching staff between Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, and Bud Norris. Ed Wade has shown some talent in putting together decent bullpens on the cheap as well.

Unfortunately, whether due to stubbornness or misguided devotion, both teams have completely flubbed on the other side of the ball. They both have some decent building blocks (Mario Williams, Brian Cushing  -- Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn) but they've surrounded them with a mix of miscast role players as starters and overpaid washed up players (Carlos Lee, Dunta Robinson) who the team really has no logical replacement for. Because of the dire situation, they rush rookies into starting roles they aren't ready for (Kareem Jackson, Brett Wallace), have absolutely no backup plan for injuries (Connor Barwin, Jason Castro), and continually tread water with mediocre players at important positions (nose tackle, shortstop) while doing little to address the problems long-term other than take another stab at it in the draft. 

To put it bluntly, both of these teams have major long-term problems that won't be solved by better drafting alone. They would both be better served with smart forays into free agency than no forays at all, and they could both use a change in management after years of stagnation. But instead they've deluded themselves into believing the template they installed in the middle of the decade can work with just tinkering every year. 

Team Ill-Fated (Dynamo, Rockets)

Both of these teams have no problem accumulating and acquiring talent. Their problem is keeping the cupboard stacked completely. Chronic injuries to big name stars (Brian Ching, Yao Ming) have really hurt their chances of playing well, and while both front offices continue to be very creative in looking for the roster-defining big talent that they need to get back to their past success, they haven't managed to come up with him yet. 

In the mean time, both teams have a "next man up" philosophy, and accumulate a ton of depth. They also both have a good idea of just how they want to work the draft. Incorporate a good mix of older talent (Brad Davis, Luis Scola) with the youngins, and have one obvious flaw that they just haven't been able to fix yet (interior defense, creative attacking) without their stars. 

For these two teams, the question is not how, like it is for the other two teams, but when? As long as they hold the course and continue doing what they're doing, they will continue to be the two teams in this city that are going somewhere. They were the last two teams to make the playoffs, and they'll be the first two to make it again at this rate.

Which would be a welcome pace from what we've had lately. Now if only someone could manage the other two teams in the city the same way.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.