It was the 2017-18 NBA season, and the Rockets sat at 65-17 heading into the playoffs as the #1 seed in the West, guaranteeing themselves home-court advantage for the entire ride. They had at the time the best player in the association, the soon-to-be-named MVP, James Harden, and also a veteran PG in Chris Paul and career years from Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. They were in prime position to make the Finals as they were about to close out game 5 to put them up 3-2 in the highly anticipated series against Golden State until the final seconds of the memorable Game 5, Chris Paul fell with a hamstring injury that would keep him out of the rest of the series. Following this, they would lose Game 6 by 30. Then, in one of the worst shooting games in NBA history, the Rockets blew a second-half lead in Game 7 to lose the game, the series, and hand the Warriors their fourth straight Western Conference Championship that led to their third championship in four years.
The following season the Rockets had 23 different players play for them and lost to the Warriors in six in the Conference semi-finals. Everyone knew there needed to be changes made in Houston, and Daryl Morey agreed and agreed upon one of the biggest trades of the past decade as he sent CP3, their 2021, 24' First-round pick, and two future pick swaps for Russell Westbrook. The 2020 NBA season was cut short due to the COVID-19 global outbreak. What we'd seen before the bubble proved they had problems and that the Westbrook-Harden duo needed to be more consistent with chemistry. In season, the Rockets also moved on from their anchor down low, Clint Capela leaving them with small ball lineups on a nightly basis.
In the bubble, the Rockets stayed afloat as they ended up as the fourth seed in the West. In the first round, they faced off against Chris Paul in a seven-game scare but a victory nevertheless. The semi-finals showed them at their breaking point, as they were bested in five by the eventual Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 2020 off-season was busy for Houston as Russell Westbrook asked for a trade in November. It's believed Westbrook sensed a growing disinterest from Harden's party and wanted out of Houston before things got any worse. In December, the front office fulfilled Westbrook's trade as he was sent to Washington for, at the time, an All-Star PG, John Wall, and a 2023 first-round pick. To say the Rockets' 2021 season could've started worse is an understatement. It all began when Harden, the Rockets' franchise player for around eight years to this point, showed up late to training camp as he was partying with Atlanta rapper Lil Baby.
As the trade rumors swirled around, it was time for the season to begin. The Rockets were also entering their first season with a new Head coach and former Mavericks Assistant Head Coach, Stephen Silas. The first game of the NBA season began with an OT loss to the Blazers, but James Harden looked disinterested and sluggish. It was January 12th, though, as the Rockets took on the Lakers, where everything fell apart. During warmups, fans couldn't help but realize that Harden looked out of shape. He didn't look the same as that Tuesday night just days before. Many believe it was a fat suit so Harden could get out of Houston, and the evidence is there as later in the year, he looked in great shape. Following the blowout to Los Angeles, Harden crossed the line with Houston and effectively ended his Houston career for the time being as he was traded just two days later to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster deal that involved four teams. The Rockets acquired four first-round pick swaps from the Nets, an additional first from Cleveland via Milwaukee, and another All-Star in Victor Oladipo, who, just like John Wall, had injuries best him. Another trade that occurred was less than a week later, the Rockets and Cavs struck another deal, this time sending Kevin Porter Jr., a former 2019 first-round pick, for a 2021 top-55 protected second-round pick.
Indeed, many will remember the end of a Rockets era due to Harden and the seasons of so close to the end, but so far to go until we reach it. The remainder of the season was a blur for Rockets fans as they finished 17-55, the worst in the NBA, and to add insult to injury, the Houston team only had six guys reach at least the 36-game threshold mark in games played throughout the season. To put that in perspective, the Rockets had thirty players put the jersey on for them over the 72-game season, and only 20% of them played at least half of the season. Helping put Houston in a prime position for the first overall pick in the June draft.
A NEW HOPE
The draft lottery would be disappointing as Houston wouldn't end up with the number one pick as hoped but would be drafting from the number two spot instead. The Rockets were stuck between USC's Evan Mobley and G-League Ignite's first NBA prospect, Jalen Green. The Rockets used their pick to add Jalen Green and traded with OKC for the 17th overall pick, Alperen Sengun. They also used their remaining draft capital to add Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher.
The season was nothing but inconsistent and showed little to no signs of improvement in any form of fashion. Jalen Green started his rookie season off slow, but he turned into a completely different player following the All-Star break. The same could be said for Alperen Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr., each becoming fan favorites. As the season closed out, though, John Wall was an expensive bench warmer who was asked not to show up, and the Rockets were the worst team in the NBA for the second straight season. Again, having the top chance to be the first pick holder in the draft, the Rockets fell to the third overall pick. Their hopes rested on the Magic as Paolo Banchero, hopeful in their dream scenario, wouldn't be selected by Orlando. But, the Magic switched their minds just hours before the draft and shocked everyone by selecting Paolo, leaving Chet to go to OKC while the Rockets picked Jabari Smith Jr.
During the offseason, the Rockets and John Wall agreed on a contract buyout and parted ways with Christian Wood. This season has yet again been another disappointing one as Houston currently sits at 13-40, which, if they continue losing the way they have been, would put them at the bottom of the league for a third straight season. As stars emerge like Alperen Sengun, Jalen Green struggles to find consistency on offense and lacks effort on the defensive end, hurting his overall production for the team. Improvement has yet to arrive this year, as many believe it's time for changes to the front office, coaching staff, and ownership. As for talent, the Rockets have the talent only if they are willing to improve their development system and commit to a long-term GM & Head Coach.
The only positive of the wasted season is how it sets up the off-season for the Rockets. With rumors of a Harden-Houston reunion, if he chooses to opt out of resigning with the 76ers to the draft capital, the Rockets have many different paths this off-season. All in all, if Houston does indeed bring back James Harden, things will come full circle. As Thanos put it, "You Could Not Live With Your Own Failure, And Where Did That Bring You? Back To Me."
Overall, the Rockets' hopeful three-year rebuild has turned into what may be a five-year rebuild if they don't start making moves soon. The Rockets' downfall has been more than just losing, it's been about improvement, and if no signs of progress occur here quickly, it may be time for a change in Houston.