The Houston Rockets have a long history of Hall of Fame players that have significantly impacted the franchise. It starts with players like Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady the list goes on and on.
Those players are all legends, and the Rockets have two championships in the ‘90s on top of having all these franchise players. Unfortunately, the Rockets have not been able to get back to the NBA Finals in over 25 years, but have also had great players since their heyday.
Names that come to mind are Steve Francis, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and James Harden, the second greatest player in the franchise's history. However, one name that may not immediately come to mind is a name that has been part of the most successful Rockets teams since the mid-’90s. That player is Eric Gordon.
Gordon has been with the Rockets for over six seasons since signing a huge contract during free agency before the 2016 NBA season. It was a four-year, $52 million contract, and even though Gordon has always been seen as a good player, he did come with the baggage of having an injury history. Nevertheless, Gordon's impact is still being felt, and it started from day one.
Eric Gordon has been making an impact since he first put on a Rockets uniform.
The Rockets struggled to a 41-41 record in 2015-16. It was Kevin McHale’s last year as Rockets head coach, as was fired 11 games into the season. It was also Dwight Howard’s last year with the team. However, Eric Gordon's first year proved he could be a good Robin to Harden’s Batman.
Gordon was coming off another injury-riddled year where he only played 45 games for the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Gordon stepped into a significant scoring role with Howard gone, even though he was coming off the bench most of his first season. Gordon would play 75 games his first season, finishing second in scoring on the team and shooting over 37 percent from beyond the arc.
The Rockets improved their record to 55-27 before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2016-2017 NBA Playoffs. However, even with the early playoff exit, Gordon proved he would be a significant part of the Rockets in the future. The following year would be even better for Gordon and Houston.
The start of 2017-18 would bring in future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and made the Rockets instant contenders. Even though Gordon would move to more of a support role, it did not make him any less valuable. Gordon would average 18 points a game, his most in six seasons.
With Paul running point, the Rockets would win a franchise-record 65 games, finishing with the best record in the NBA. Gordon would prove once and for all how valuable he was, scoring 18 and 19 in the last two games vs. the Timberwolves as the Rockets closed out Minnesota in the first round. Gordon would also become the first Rocket in franchise history to win Sixth Man of the Year.
Gordon showed why he was the Rocket's best two-way player in the next series. Primarily guarding Donovan Mitchell, he would lock down the Utah Jazz’s best player the entire series. In Game 3, Gordon would show why he was the Sixth Man of the Year, scoring 25 points in a win. The Rockets would finish off the Jazz in six games, with Paul playing a game for the ages.
That win would set up a showdown with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The series would go back and forth, with the Rockets winning game 4 tying the series at 2-2. Game 5 would turn out to be the biggest game in over 20 years for the Rockets. Like the rest of the series, the game was a tight one, as the Rockets held a one-point lead with less than 1:30 left.
What happened next was at the time and still is the biggest shot for the Rockets in over 20 years. Harden broke down the Warriors’ defense, drawing in practically the entire team and kicked it out to Gordon, who, like he has more times than not, nailed the open three, put the Rockets up four, with the victory sending them up 3-2 and one win away from the NBA Finals.
We all know what happened next, so I will not subject Rockets fans (and myself) to that horrible memory, but Gordon showed he could make the big play when called upon in pressure-packed situations.
The Rockets would take a step backward following season, with Paul being out over half the year and never recovering. Harden would go on his unstoppable tour, and Gordon would continue his solid play, averaging over 16 points a game. With Paul not being the same player he was just the year before, Gordon would have to take more of a scoring role in the playoffs.
Gordon would score in double digits in 11 out of the 12 games, including a 30-point game in a win vs. the Warriors, one of only two wins in that series, as the Rockets were knocked out again by Golden State. But yet again, Gordon showed he could adapt to any situation and show up in the playoffs.
Gordon would struggle with injuries the next year and would have probably his worst year, but in 2020-21 before another injury would sideline him, he had a bounce-back year, showing burst and a renewed ability to get to the basket. This year, Eric Gordon has been remarkable considering the circumstances. Gordon is having a career year in three-point percentage and is in the top 10 in the league while also having one of the most efficient seasons of his career, all while the team is in the middle of a rebuild and has had players in and out of the lineup.
Gordon doesn't complain about coming off the bench, being the number one option or number five, he just goes out, plays hard, and does whatever it takes for the team to win. Gordon has had a 50-point game, won a three-point contest during All-Star Weekend, and won the Sixth Man of The Year award while with the Rockets.
The writing on the wall is every contender in the league will covet Gordon. It is a matter of time before he is traded, not because he is a bad player, but because he could be the missing piece to a championship team this year. Whatever happens, Gordon is one of the best players to put on a Rockets uniform in the last 20 years and should never be forgotten by Rockets fans.