Countdown at 13 for Rockets

Wednesday night in Houston, the NBA’s Rockets took it on the chin once again at home.  The Utah Jazz (who should be forced to make a deal and give that name back to the rightful owners in New Orleans) drubbed the Houston Rockets 112-89.  Another 20+ point loss for Houston.

The good news?  Houston maintains its slim ½ game lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves for the NBA’s worst record this season with only thirteen games left in the NBA’s 2020-2021 season.   

With a record of just 15 wins and 44 losses, this year’s Houston Rockets have everything in front of them to capture the best statistical odds of getting the first pick in this summer’s NBA draft. 

Guess who slithers into H-town on Tuesday night?   Oh, yes!  It’s those evil Minnesota Timberwolves! 

For those lucky few fans who will actually pay for tickets to attend the game Tuesday at Houston’s Toyota Center, the starting line-ups for the two teams will be a lot of fun to watch.  Neither team wants to win this game with so much on the line.  The loser of the game might edge into the #1 slot for worst team in the league and have the best chance of grabbing the #1 NBA draft choice in June.

No matter how you slice it, this game is HUGE!   

Regardless of whether Houston holds onto the #1 overall draft pick, this NBA team hasn’t even had a single first round draft choice since 2015 (Sam Dekker – who was traded three times and now plays overseas in Turkey).  The team’s former General Manager (Daryl Morey – who left Houston and now tinkers with the Philadelphia 76ers roster) was what some of us call a “deal junkie”.  He was never satisfied with the team’s composition and traded the team’s recent top draft picks away for veteran players such as Chris Paul (who lasted two years in Houston) and Russell Westbrook (one and done in Houston). 

Never fear, Houston Rockets fans.  The team has been completely reorganized after Houston native Tillman Fertitta acquired the local pro basketball franchise in 2017 for $2.2 billion.   Most of the team’s upper management has been replaced along with the Rockets’ biggest star, James Harden.  However, it was James Harden who was the one literally begged to be traded after last season.  He received his wish and was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets in January, 2021.

The Houston Rockets are officially in the rebuilding mode.  The team set a franchise record with a 20-game losing streak earlier this year.  They have dealt away a few players and acquired two additional first round picks from Portland and Milwaukee.  With three first round selections this summer, the Rockets’ upcoming draft picks need to help restore this franchise into a contender once again.    

The good news for Houston Rockets fans is history reflects that when the team holds the #1 overall draft choice, some legendary Hall-of-Fame players have been selected.  On the other hand, there have been many very questionable first round selections taken over the years, too.

Since the Houston Rockets are only able to sell their fans on a little hope for the future (and a lot of hype) with their first round pick this summer, let’s take a closer look at some of the team’s biggest draft successes and busts over the years:

I will rank the five Houston Rockets #1 overall draft selections in the team’s history:

  1. Hakeem Olajuwon – 1984’s #1 overall selection would ultimately lead the Houston Rockets to their only two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.   The gifted 7’1” center known as “Hakeem the Dream” was one of the most talented big men in league history.  He would become an NBA Hall-of-Famer and remains an icon in the Houston area.
  2. Elvin Hayes – Though the 6’9” “Big E” was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in 1968 (the team moved to Houston in 1971), Hayes would play in Houston for nearly half of his career.  Alas, he would win his only NBA championship after being traded to the Washington Bullets (yes, that’s what they were known as in 1978 when the team won its only NBA title).  Hayes would be traded back to Houston to conclude his NBA career.  Like Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes became a Hall-of-Famer and one of the 50 greatest players on the NBA’s 50th anniversary team. 
  3. Yao Ming – In 2002, the Rockets had the #1 pick in the NBA draft and reached across the Pacific Ocean to select the 7’6” giant from China.  After scoring nearly 40 points per game and grabbing 20 rebounds during his final year playing hoops in China, Yao was immediately a success in the NBA and brought the league worldwide interest.  An 8-time NBA All-Star, Yao developed foot problems after a few seasons and would retire from the NBA after playing ten years in Houston.  Yao Ming joined the NBA Hall-of-Fame in 2016.
  4. Ralph Sampson – The 7’4” University of Virginia center came into the NBA with the Houston Rockets as the #1 overall draft choice in 1983.  He would be joined in the line-up by Hakeem Olajuwon a year later.  The “Twin Towers” led the Rockets turnaround and took the team into the 1986 NBA Finals (losing to Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics).  Like Yao Ming, Ralph Sampson struggled with frequent injuries.  He would be traded several times and never regained his previous form.   
  5. John Lucas – Houston’s fifth #1 overall draft pick was a talented left-handed guard from Maryland in the 1976 NBA draft.   The 6’3” Lucas would play on the 1986 Rockets NBA Finals runner-up team with both Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.   John Lucas would later admit to having drug problems during his career.  Lucas would enter rehabilitation and would eventually become a substance abuse counselor for several NBA teams.  Lucas also tried his hand at coaching in the NBA.

When Houston does not hold the top overall pick in the NBA’s first round, the results haven’t been nearly as stellar.  Here are a few memorable Houston Rockets first round draft busts:

  1. Royce White – This 6’8” burly forward from Iowa State was drafted by Houston in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft as the 16th overall selection.  Alas, the Rockets’ scouting report apparently failed to uncover that Royce White suffered with severe anxiety issues relating to flying in jets!  It was so bad that the Rockets sent him to their minor league franchise in Year 1 so that he could travel via bus between cities.  Despite a year of trying to get Royce White psychological help to deal with his anxiety issues, the young man logged only nine minutes and zero points in (a home game, of course) his brief NBA career.  At last report, he was attempting to become a mixed martial arts performer.
  2. Lee Johnson – Standing at 6’11” from tiny East Texas State University (Commerce, Texas), Lee Johnson was selected by the Rockets with the 17th overall draft pick in 1979.  He would only play in a total of 12 games during his only year in the NBA and averaged a paltry 1.4 points and 2 rebounds per game.  He would play in Europe for the next 12 years, though. 
  3. John Turner – Taken with the 20th overall selection in the first round of the 1991 NBA draft, the 6’8” Turner (from tiny Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma) played in just 42 games for the Rockets during his first year and averaged 2.8 points/game.  He was released by Houston after Year #1 and would play with 11 European League teams over the next ten years.

There’s no question that this year’s Houston Rockets must do whatever it takes over the final thirteen games of the NBA regular season to solidify the top spot in this summer’s draft.  When rival Minnesota visits Houston on Tuesday night, the franchise must put its worst foot forward to preserve the team’s slim half-game lead over the T-wolves.

“Introducing the starting line-up tonight for YOUR Houston Rockets…

At forward, from the Senior Center of North Houston, please welcome Grandpa Simpson!

At the other forward, from and using parts unknown, it’s Inspector Gadget!

At center, from the Canadian Yukon, please welcome Dudley Do-Right!

At the guard, from South Park Elementary, it’s Eric Cartman!

And, at the other guard, from Niagara Falls, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, it’s Curley Howard!”

I can’t wait for tip-off in Houston Tuesday night!