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The Second-Rate Houston Rockets

Hakeem Olajuwon is the greatest Rockets player ever. He led the team to two consecutive championships and was the second best player in the league when the GOAT Michael Jordan was around.

Those 90s Rockets teams were incredible, but they were not my favorite. At the time, I did not really watch basketball and did not appreciate the domination that was being unleashed in my city.

Instead of Olajuwon, my superstars were Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. However, my favorite team, the ’08-’09 Rockets, were mostly missing that pair due to their injuries. T-Mac sat out most of the regular season, but the Rockets still made the playoffs and beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

In the conference semifinals, they faced the Los Angeles Lakers. After already being down 2-1 in the series, Yao Ming limped off the court at the end of game 3 and missed the rest of the playoffs. Despite the deficit and missing their two best players, the Rockets fought back and pushed the eventual champions to seven games. No other team in the playoffs pushed the Lakers past six games.

That Rockets team had Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Chuck Haye), and Luis Scola. In comparison, the Lakers had Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. The Rockets were completely outmatched but played the best team in the NBA even. That heart and passion is what makes this franchise special.

The next few seasons were dark years for the Rockets. Yao and T-Mac’s careers as star players were over, and both of them would be gone from the team within two years. The team missed the playoffs three years in a row and lacked any transcendently great players.

Even without a superstar on their roster, the Rockets had a winning record every year. As such, Houston never received a high draft pick in the draft lottery. But rather than tanking the team to get a good draft pick, GM Daryl Morey kept acquiring solid role players, waiting for the opportunity to get a superstar in either free agency or via a trade. Morey never gave up on the Rockets, and team would always fight for every win. And eventually the universe rewarded them with James Harden.

For such a conservative country, Americans seem totally fine with rewarding terrible teams with the best draft picks. But this is even worse when teams actively try to lose in order to improve their draft picks. If tomorrow it was revealed Tom Brady threw a game because he bet on his opponents winning, the sports world would be in an uproar. However, we seem to be OK with a GM trading away every good player and putting up a terrible roster in order to acquire the #1 pick1)The NBA is now taking some small steps to prevent tanking..

This is why the Sixers are an morally bankrupt team. If you support Philadelphia, you are a terrible person who is damaging the integrity of sports, and you should be ashamed of yourself as a fan2)Yes, technically, the Astros had the same strategy.. Philadelphia has been bottom-feeders of the league for the past four seasons. At this point, the franchise no longer deserves to exist.

Over the off-season, the Rockets traded for Chris Paul. The universe has not placed any great assets directly in their laps either through the draft or free agency3)Let’s forget about Dwight Howard.. Morey has built a talented squad through hard work, not luck.

Yet despite having two of the best players in the league, the Rockets are heavy underdogs to win the title this year. Golden State, Cleveland, and OKC all have more talent on their sides.

I am hoping this team reminds me of the ’08-’09 Rockets. They are going to be a good team but not the best. Every once in a while though, heart beats talent. This season looks like it will end with another Finals between the Warriors and Cavs. But anything could happen. Why can’t the Rockets win it all?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The NBA is now taking some small steps to prevent tanking.
2. Yes, technically, the Astros had the same strategy.
3. Let’s forget about Dwight Howard.

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