Ranking the top 6 “what-if” moments in Houston Rockets history

Houston Rockets Chris Paul (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Chris Paul (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Yao Ming Tracy McGrady (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) /

5. What if McGrady/Yao stayed healthy?

When the Houston Rockets acquired Tracy McGrady it seemed they had built a superstar duo between McGrady and Yao Ming, which was a force to be reckoned with, to say the least. McGrady had been to four All-Star teams and led the league in scoring in each of the previous two seasons and was only 24-years-old at the time of the trade.

Yao was coming off his second All-Star appearance and had just had his best statistical season in points and blocks as well. This meant the T-Mac/Yao duo was certainly going to be one for the ages, right?

During the 2004-05 season, which was their first season together, the Rockets had more wins than either Yao’s previous two seasons in the league and both he and T-Mac made the All-Star team. McGrady finished sixth in the league in scoring and the Rockets made the postseason for the second straight year of Jeff Van Gundy’s tenure with the team, as they posted 51 wins.

Although the Rockets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, it seemed clear that the McGrady/Yao duo was going to be a force for years to come. After all, McGrady was 25 and Yao was only 24.

Unfortunately the injuries began to pile up for each player in the following season, which caused the Rockets to win only 34 games the following year. Yao ultimately missed 25 games and T-Mac missed 35 games during the 2005-06 season.

There was a similar story during the 2006-07 season, as Yao missed 34 games, although the Rockets were able to win 52 games and secure the fifth seed in the Western Conference. In spite of the Rockets making the postseason in two of the first three seasons of the star duo, the team decided to go in a different direction as it pertains to their head coach.

Rick Adelman was ushered in as the new coach during the 2007-08 season, and it seemed clear that if the Rockets could manage to keep McGrady and Yao healthy they could easily make a deep run for a championship. Unfortunately health issues continued, as the star duo missed a combined 43 games.

In spite of this, the Rockets managed to win 55 games, which gave them the fifth seed in the West. As if this weren’t impressive enough, the Rockets also went on a 22-game winning streak, which wasn’t a franchise record and is the third-longest streak in the NBA. Ten of those games were actually without Yao.

Unfortunately the Rockets were eliminated in the first round by the Utah Jazz again, and were without Yao during the entire series. But this was beyond encouraging, considering this was Adelman’s first season after all.

On top of that, the Rockets had gotten significant contributions from role players such as Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, who had gotten used to playing in place of Yao. During the 2008-09 season, Yao was able to avoid the injury bug, as he played 77 games for the Rockets. This was more than each of Yao’s previous 3 years, but unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for T-Mac.

McGrady missed 47 games, but the Rockets were still able to win 53 games. Not only that, the Rockets finally made it past the first round, as they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers despite being without Tracy McGrady.

This matched the Rockets up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Although McGrady was still injured, the Rockets had momentum as they had just won a series without T-Mac.

The Lakers were up 2-1 through the first three games of the series, which were unfortunately the only games Yao Ming would play. The Rockets battled and took the Lakers to seven games but were ultimately eliminated 89-70 in Game 7. The fact that the Rockets took the eventual champion Lakers to seven games despite being without McGrady for the entire series and being without Yao for more than half the series left Rockets fans wondering what would have happened if they were both healthy.

This ended up being their last season together, as McGrady was traded during the 2009-10 season, which marked the end of the T-Mac/Yao pairing. Yao missed the entire 2009-10 season due to injury and would try to return during the 2010-11 season, but ultimately lasted only five games.

Yao retired after nine years as injuries ultimately ended his career. T-Mac played two more seasons in the NBA and one year in China before retiring as well. Both players made the Hall of Fame, as T-Mac was inducted in 2018 and Yao was inducted in 2016.

All in all, the Rockets had only two playoff series’ in which both players were healthy, which were the first two playoff matchups of the T-Mac/Yao era. The Rockets had just as many in which one of the pair was unhealthy, and the 2008-09 team was arguably one of the better teams of the McGrady/Yao era.

Unfortunately we’ll never know what would have happened if both players could have stayed healthy.

Next: No. 4