Rockets, Pistons could surprise

Life in sports is full of surprises.

The NFL started the season off with replacement refs -- surprise!

The Giants swept the Tigers -- surprise!

Lance chea … OK, not all surprises are made the same.

Still, the trade that sent James Harden to Houston was such a surprise that all many of us could do was echo what Kevin Durant tweeted soon after hearing the news -- "Wow" -- or what Rockets GM Daryl Morey said when asked about his reaction to the news that Harden was even available -- "shocked."

But that's sports, and unpredictability is part of its appeal.

So how successful will the new-look Rockets be this season?

Who knows?

But it's only fitting that the team that surprised us all before the season started kicks things off against a team that may surprise us all by season's end.

The Detroit Pistons haven't had a winning record in three seasons, and hardly anyone thinks they'll break that streak this year.

But just as no one thought last year's Sixth Man of the Year would end up in Houston, there's a very good chance this year's Rookie of the Year is in Detroit. And because of that player, the Pistons just might find themselves above .500. Maybe even in the playoffs.

In the team's last preseason game, in less than 19 minutes of action against the Atlanta Hawks, Andre Drummond had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.

I know it's only the preseason and Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are in better positions to get bigger numbers.

But remember, this is sports … and Harden was not supposed to be a Rocket.

I saw the 19-year-old Drummond in a game in Miami earlier this month, and he's definitely a work in progress. At times he looked lost, and he managed to get five fouls before he had five rebounds, or even five points.

But what impressed me was that he made adjustments. He didn't foul out. He found a way to contribute, and his eight rebounds in less than 19 minutes were more than starting big men Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell had combined -- and they both played more than 20.

Drummond probably won't start against Harden's Rockets.

He might not start before Christmas.

But Detroit coach Lawrence Frank is going to have a hard time keeping a guy as big and as physically gifted as Drummond out of the starting lineup. Especially on a team that finished near the bottom in rebounds, and whose opponents' adjusted field goal percentage was 50 percent just a year ago.

"My goal isn't to start, my goal is to help this team win and do whatever the coaches and the veterans tell me to do," Drummond told me before the Heat game. "I'm learning and I just want to keep learning and getting better every day."

When I asked Frank about starting the rookie, he acknowledged that Drummond was coming along better than expected and then jokingly asked if I was his agent.

I'm not.

I just know that when Drummond's played at least 18 minutes this preseason he's gotten 13.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and 1.5 bpg, while shooting 66 percent from the field. And he's gotten those numbers while playing 25 minutes once. For a guy to be doing all of that when he's barely on the floor, one can only imagine what he's going to be playing like when he's earned more run.

Just as one can only imagine what Harden is going to be like in his new home.

Morey called him a "foundational" player, which gave me some pause because Oklahoma City is still a favorite to win the championship. If a team loses a "foundational" player and is still a favorite to win it all, perhaps that player is not as "foundational." And Harden did shoot 37.5 percent from the field in the Finals.

But you just never know what a good player on a loaded team is going to do on his own. Steve Nash surprised us all in Phoenix by becoming a two-time MVP after his move from Dallas, where ownership thought his skills were in decline.

Nash's former teammate Amar'e Stoudemire surprised us all by becoming an MVP candidate in New York before owner Jim Dolan blew the squad up to add Carmelo Anthony.

If Harden handles the pressure of being the man, and drags Houston into the playoffs, certainly he would deserve some unexpected MVP consideration.

I doubt that will happen, but then again, Harden isn't supposed to be a Rocket in the first place. And the Tigers weren't supposed to get swept, and the NFL wasn't supposed to have replacement refs, and Lance wasn't supposed to … well … you get the idea. Neither Detroit nor Houston has made the playoffs since 2009, and at the start of the preseason, neither was expected to break that streak. At least not on paper. Then life ripped up that sheet of paper and left the rest of us with Durant's "Wow."

All of which is fine by me; sports is always better when it doesn't go along as planned.