Almost exactly one year ago, the Houston Rockets and Houston Texans were flying high.
The Texans, riding QB Deshaun Watson, had squeezed out an overtime wild card win over the Bills on Jan. 4. Eight days later, they took a stunning 21-0 lead in the division round against the favored Chiefs.
The Rockets, behind star James Harden's 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, blasted the Wolves 139-109 on Jan. 11, 2020 — improving to 26-12 on the season, among the best records in the West.
To understand where both stars — and franchises — are now perhaps requires a quick lesson in what happened next a year ago:
Watson's Texans blew that lead to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs in spectacular fashion, managing to lose by 20 points (51-31) after leading by 21. It was a sign of things to come: The Texans, after winning back-to-back division titles, went just 4-12 this season. Now Watson is mad enough that there are suggestions he might force a trade, though cooler heads could still prevail.
Harden's Rockets went just 14-12 after that 26-12 start before the season was paused for months by the coronavirus pandemic. The Rockets went 4-4 in the regular-season bubble, eked out a seven-game series win over the Thunder and then were blasted by the eventual champion Lakers. Russell Westbrook was traded in the offseason. Harden wants out, too.
The situations both seem to be reaching a crescendo at the same time, with some delightful overlap: The Texans leaders have been trying to get ahold of Watson, but he hasn't been picking up the phone. On Tuesday, he was easy to find: He was watching Harden grind through another miserable performance (pictured above) in Houston.
The key developments Tuesday: Former Texans WR Andre Johnson siding with Watson, who is reportedly unhappy with Texans management over the hiring of new GM Nick Caserio.
Harden, who has made no secret of his desire to be traded and is playing like someone with little interest in being in Houston, seemed reach his breaking point after a loss to the Lakers. He said postgame: "We're just not good enough. Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. ... I love this city. I've literally done everything that I can. ... It's crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."
The most likely outcome seems to be that the Texans and Watson mend fences and he plays in Houston next season. But quarterbacks that good and that young being even mentioned as trade possibilities will make several suitors line up. Harden? It sure seems like he'll be traded soon.
And no, this isn't a "how the Vikings or Wolves could get these guys" thing. Neither of those things is remotely realistic.
Rather, it's just a reminder: Success in sports can be so tenuous. What we think we know can change quickly, and usually we don't even realize the moment everything changed until the moment is long gone.