After years of dedication, players become synonymous with the franchises they represent. From Hakeem Olajuwon to James Harden, it’s hard to think of Houston basketball without these names. Though Harden was once a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he is now a staple of Houston’s culture. However, not all superstars who’ve made their way into a Rockets jersey have stuck around for so long. This is a look at five stars who briefly played for Houston.
By now, everyone is familiar with the outcome of the Chicago Bulls’ “Last Dance” in 1998. After the dynasty secured their sixth championship, Phil Jackson left the team and Michael Jordan retired yet again. With the franchise spiraling downwards into a rebuild, Scottie Pippen wanted out. During the 1998 offseason, Pip would be traded to Houston for Roy Rogers and a second round draft pick.
Pippen was initially satisfied forming a big three with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkely, two former NBA MVPs of the early ‘90s. Additionally, Pippen finally secured himself an $11 million salary, a significant raise from his previous annual earnings in Chicago. During his lone season with the Rockets, he served as a solid third scoring option, averaging 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists.
Houston would finish the shortened season with a 31-19 record, taking the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, the aging stars were outmatched by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, a line up featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
So why didn’t this experiment work out? There had been personal conflicts brewing between Pippen and Barkley throughout the season. Pippen felt that Barkley was lazy, selfish, and not invested in team success. Barkley was offended by these remarks, especially after taking a pay cut for Pippen’s contract.
Consequently, Pippen demanded a trade, preferring to play with his old coach Phil Jackson on the Lakers. Ultimately, the Portland Trailblazers would accept a trade for Pippen. The Trailblazers would go on to make the Western Conference Finals in Pippen’s first year in Portland, losing to Phil Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers in a seven-game series.
After leaving the New York Knicks in 2017, Carmelo Anthony would transition from being the face of a franchise to a skillful veteran with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his new supporting role, Melo acted as a third scoring option to Russell Westbrook and Paul George. During this time, Melo averaged a career low 16.2 points and broke his decade-long streak of All-Star selections. When the 2018 offseason arrived, Anthony was traded from the Thunder to the Atlanta Hawks, and then placed on the waivers. Clearly, no one thought he was worth the $20+ million contract.
Optimistically, Melo would accept a veteran’s minimum contract from the Houston Rockets. However, what could have been a long-lasting destination for Melo during the tail end of his prime resulted in a quick pit stop. His tenure with the franchise lasted an entire 10 games.
Management envisioned the veteran to be a third scoring option to James Harden and Chris Paul, his similar role in Oklahoma City. However, it seemed that, even as a supporting player, Anthony underperformed. In his final appearance as a Rocket, Anthony missed 10 out of 11 of his field goal attempts over a 20-minute period.
The biggest question is what inclined the Rockets to trade away the aging star, who was playing for the veteran’s minimum. Surely, there were other underperformers who deserved blame as well.
However, Houston had started the season 4-6 and management didn’t think Anthony was fitting into their system well. So during January of 2019, the Rockets traded Melo to the Chicago Bulls, in which he was then immediately waived.
After that ordeal, no team in the league wanted him. It wasn’t until late November of 2019 that Anthony was given another chance in the NBA, being offered a non-guaranteed deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. Melo’s career has since been rejuvenated in Portland, proving he still belongs in the NBA.
In theory, the ‘Lob City’ era in the Los Angeles Clippers’ history was promising. The trio of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan seemed destined to make it deep in the playoffs each season. However, after several years of first-round eliminations, faith was dwindling and CP3 wanted to compete for a championship contender. During the 2017 offseason, Paul was traded to Houston for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, a future first round pick, and cash considerations.
Unlike most players on this list, Paul’s tenure with Houston was very successful. For the 2018 season, the Rockets finished the regular season as the first seed in the highly competitive Western Conference with an astounding and franchise-best 65-17 record. In the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets were up 3-2 against the Golden State Warriors, nearly tasting the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, Paul injured his hamstring and was out for Games 6 and 7, allowing the Warriors to come back and steal the series.
Paul’s other season with the Rockets also resulted in a playoff elimination from the Warriors, this time in the Western Conference Semi Finals.
Fans may wonder why the elite point guard never stuck in Houston. The answer is while Paul and James Harden meshed well as a duo on the court, the two stars didn’t enjoy playing with one another. Their relationship was strictly business, and their expressive personalities were constantly clashing against each other. One complaint of Paul’s was of Harden’s lack of effort on offense when he didn’t have the ball. On the other hand, Harden thought Paul was too controlling and rigid.
During the 2019 offseason, Chris Paul would be traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Now in 2021, Paul awaits a promising season with the Phoenix Suns.
Upon leaving the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard was regarded as one of the most dominant centers in the league. It seemed he was following in the footsteps of the great Shaquille O’Neal by, ironically, teaming up with Kobe Bryant in L.A. After a problematic year in Los Angeles, however, Howard wanted out. Between issues with management and Bryant, D12 felt L.A. wasn’t a good fit for him. So during the 2013 offseason, Howard signed with the Houston Rockets as a free agent, one of former Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s big gets.
Howard made an impact during his three seasons in Houston, serving as a solid secondary option to James Harden. Throughout his run as a Rocket, Howard averaged 15.9 points and 11.6 rebounds. Howard’s most memorable time in Houston came in 2015, as the Rockets claimed first place in the Southwest division after 20 years. That year, the Rockets would be eliminated in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. While Houston didn’t go all the way with Howard, he contributed to shaping them into serious championship contenders once again.
So what made Howard leave? Just like his situation with Kobe Bryant, Howard didn’t get along well with James Harden. With Howard’s reputation as a mercurial, difficult teammate and unwilling pick-and-roll partner and Harden’s as a ball hog, things were bound to go sour eventually. Unhappy with his playing environment, Howard chose to sign with his hometown Atlanta Hawks during the 2016 offseason. Since then, Howard has come to be a team hopper, playing on five different teams in the last five years. While some critics may blame Harden for this move, Howard’s short-term tenures indicate a self-rooted problem.
Russell Westbrook is one of the most dominant guards of recent history, averaging a triple-double from 2017 to 2019. While Brodie is very successful with his individual accolades, he lacks team success. Without the help of Kevin Durant, Westbrook was unable to take OKC past the first round of the playoffs. During the 2019 offseason, Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul. It was shocking to hear that Westbrook was leaving Oklahoma City after a decade, but interesting to see how he would fare elsewhere.
When the news broke, James Harden, his former teammate in Oklahoma City, expressed enthusiasm reuniting with Brodie in Houston. Now a team with two recent NBA MVPs, there were high hopes for a championship banner in Houston. In fact, Westbrook and Harden both had exceptional seasons. During his lone season in Houston, Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists. In a season revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rockets were eliminated in the Western Conference Semi Finals by the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
Following a mist of rumors spreading during the summer, Westbrook eventually requested a trade. With major changes in management, both Harden and Westbrook expressed their dissatisfaction with Houston and wanted out. Additionally, Westbrook enjoys being the go-to guy on the court, which isn’t possible when your teammate is James Harden. This offseason, Brodie was traded to the Washington Wizards, leaving behind a lot of ‘what ifs’ and questions about Houston’s future.
Which player from this list was most memorable for you in H-town?
This poll is closed