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Is this the worst the Rockets have ever been?

The Rockets are bad. They’ve been here before - barely

USA TODAY Sports - Archive
Steve Francis was not the Franchise player the Rockets had hoped he could be

The Houston Rockets are bad. Really bad.

This team will make you want to pull an Oedipus. Why would you want to have eyes with so much ugliness in this world? On the other hand, maybe I’m being melodramatic:

As Rockets fans, we’re not used to this.

The Rockets are not among the league’s absolute upper crust in terms of historical success, but they do get invited to the Galas. More than anything, this team is consistent. There are not a lot of sub-30 win seasons in the Rockets' history.

Here’s a look at a few of them.


Here’s some context that should make you feel better about the Rockets. I’ll be looking at four seasons in this piece. I’m 35, and I was alive for one of them.

Heck, even my parents were too young to be hippies during the San Diego Rockets’ inaugural 1967-68 season. This was the franchise’s birth year - poor play was expected. With a 15-67 record, the Rockets met those expectations.

The leading scorer on this team was a guy named John Block. He averaged 20.1 points and 11 rebounds over the season. Those are good numbers, but at the same time, these were the freewheelin’ 1960s. Wilt Chamberlain was probably averaging 40 and 30 or something.

Either way, I’d never heard of Block. In all likelihood, you’ve only heard of one player on this team: Pat Riley.

Even one of the biggest winners in this league’s history couldn’t help these Rockets.


In the 10 years separating these seasons, the Rockets mostly hung around the middle. In 1976-77, they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the following year, the Rockets regressed mightily.

What happened? Well, Moses Malone missed 23 games — that might have done it. Either way, the 1977-78 Rockets were a letdown at 28-54.

If you’re thinking that 28-win season sounds like a fun watch right now, you’re not alone.


By contrast, there was no mystery in the 1982-83 Rockets’ 14-68 record. They were tanking.

Sound familiar?

This team was headlined by an aging Calvin Murphy and Elvin Hayes. They were clearly on the downswing. The Rockets needed an injection of young talent.

In the following draft, they got it. Ralph Sampson’s career was sadly impacted by injuries, but in the time he did have, he showed he was clearly worth losing some games for. This is one of the best players in Rockets' history.

Let’s take a moment to eulogize the old lottery odds. If the old system had held, the Rockets would be producing Wembanyama and Henderson jerseys already just to make sure they had them ready.

The league flattened the odds in 2019. The idea was to disincentivize tanking. I think it was near-sighted. Now, teams are more willing to undergo lengthier tanking processes — they’ll do it until they get their guy.

I digress. Following this season came a long, golden era of Rockets basketball. Like all good things, it came to an end.


Another losing Rockets season, another potentially generational big man on the horizon. Here’s hoping that trend holds this summer.

Only, the 2001-02 Rockets weren’t tanking. They were just fairly bad.

This was the late Eddie Griffin’s rookie year. As much raw talent as he had, it was certainly raw. Moreover, the team’s young backcourt of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley produced more highlights than wins.

Is this deja vu or a glitch in the matrix?

Honestly, I think about this era of Rockets basketball a lot in relation to the team’s current situation. No, the Rockets weren’t undergoing an obvious, three-season tank job. Still, the similarities are striking.

The team was built around a backcourt with more athleticism than feel. Victor Wembanyama is about two Pokemon evolutions ahead of Yao Ming. If the team drafts him, we can only hope his career isn’t cut devastatingly short by injury.

If it is, expect an addendum to this piece in five or 10 years.

So what do you think, TDS? Is this the worst ever?