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Top 10 Rockets Trades of All-Time: #6 - Charles Barkley

The Barkley trade is often looked at negatively, but that ignores how good he actually was despite injuries and gutted depth.

Supersonics V Rockets

#6 - Rockets trade a bevy of role players to Phoenix for Sir Charles - 8/19/1996

Rockets acquire: PF Charles Barkley

Suns acquire: PG Sam Cassell, F Robert Horry, F Chucky Brown & C Mark Bryant

This trade and its place in history will always be a little controversial. In fact, I’ve even seen it on several “worst trade” lists, and on the surface, that’s easy to understand.

At the time the Houston Rockets dealt Cassell and Horry to the Suns, the duo were undoubtedly team fan favorites who had major roles in the back-to-back title years. They also both went on to success with other teams, with Horry famously winning five more titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs and Cassell going on to earn another title with the Boston Celtics along with an All-Star appearance and a Second-Team All NBA selection during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

As for the Rockets? They made it as far as the the Western Conference Finals in Barkley’s first season with the team, where they would lose to the hated Utah Jazz in six games. They would then go on to lose in the first round the next two seasons, before missing the playoffs entirely in Barkley’s fourth and final year in Houston.

So how is this trade on the “Best” list, you ask?

Don’t forget, Sir Charles is an all-time NBA great, and though he wasn’t in his prime any longer by the time he made it to H-town, he was still dang good for the Rockets. His first season with the team, he went for 19.2 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He shot 48.4 percent from the field and finished with an offensive rating of 117 and a defensive rating of 100. His offensive plus-minus was +4.4 and his defensive plus-minus was +2.8. Make no bones about it; that version of Barkley was still an absolute animal.

And they had the right idea when they made the move. The year prior, the Rockets were back in the playoffs in the second round against long-time nemesis the Seattle Supersonics, and they simply had no answer for Shawn Kemp.

As much as we all loved Big Shot Bob, he was routinely abused by Kemp’s power and athleticism, and in the sweep the Rockets suffered in the 1996 playoffs, Kemp went off on Horry to the tune of 21.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field. Horry finished the series averaging 14 points and 6 boards, or in other words, he was torched.

The Sonics also employed a swarming zone defense that made life extremely difficult for Hakeem Olajuwon. It’s why they were Houston’s kryptonite throughout the ‘90s. Barkley’s co-presence in the paint was to help with all of that.

And he did. The Rockets set an at-the-time second-best franchise record with 57 wins, and Houston finally overcame Seattle in seven games in the ‘97 playoffs, with Sir Charles’s 19 points and 13 boards per game against Kemp one of the main difference makers.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, however, that series took a lot out of them. And with a big chunk of their quality depth no longer with the team, especially at the point guard position (Matt Maloney started every regular and post season game), they were simply no match for John Stockton and the much deeper Jazz.

The Rockets would be back in the playoffs the following season, but Olajuwon was a year older and only played in 45 games due to injury, limiting the team to a 41-41 record that resulted in a first-round elimination again at the hands of the Jazz.

Barkley would play in 68 games that season and have another fine box line. He went for 15.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He again shot over 48 percent from the field. But an aging and injured core and a lack of premium young talent kept them from realizing the full potential of this early version of a “Big Three”.

Clyde Drexler would retire after the season, and though the team made a move to acquire Scottie Pippen to serve in his stead, and the team did finish 31-19 in a shortened season, the title window on the Olajuwon years had closed shut, and Dream struggled with a prime Shaquille O’Neal in a first-round loss to the Lakers.

Barkley was still playing well, however, going for 16.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the regular season, and he was the only one holding the Rockets afloat in the 3-1 series defeat to the Lakers. Sir Charles averaged 23.5 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, routinely dusting both J.R. Reid and former Rocket Robert Horry.

Barkley would play one more year for the Rockets, again averaging a double-double, though the team would finish with a losing record and miss the playoffs entirely. Olajuwon started just 28 games that season and would be traded to Toronto after the following year, and Barkley would simply call it quits after 1999-2000’s 34-48 record.

The Rockets ultimately underachieved, because let’s face it, anything short of another trophy with that group was simply not going to be good enough.

But when analyzing this trade, don’t forget that in Barkley’s four years in H-town, he averaged 16.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He shot 48.2 percent from the field, finished with an offensive rating of 116, a defensive rating of 102, and had a +3.8 offensive plus-minus and a +1.8 defensive plus-minus. In any measure outside of title rings, Barkley was very, very good for the Rockets, despite not being in his prime.

He also often carried the team through several Olajuwon injuries, a retiring Drexler, a lack of overall depth, and a serious dearth of talent at the point guard position.

The Rockets didn’t get that third ring they were looking for, but the Barkley trade was still good enough to come in at number six on our countdown.