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 James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

3. Rockets never landed Harden

Prior to James Harden’s arrival in 2012, the Houston Rockets missed the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons, as they were teetering between being a lottery team and a playoff team, which is arguably the worst place to be.

Obviously a lottery team lands lottery draft picks, which can be used to package for star players or can be used to draft the top collegiate athletes. On the flip side, a playoff appearance obviously gives a team a chance to compete for the second season, and also gives the fan base hope and a reason to be optimistic about the future.

But the Rockets weren’t in either situation, and didn’t have a star player either, which was a turnoff for the fan base. In fact, the Rockets had just signed Jeremy Lin following the “Linsanity” season and he was expected to be the face of the franchise.

Sure the Rockets had Kevin Martin at the time, but he wasn’t the fan favorite Lin had already become, not to mention Martin had become injury prone. To that point, Martin only played in 144 of a potential 246 games as a member of the Houston Rockets.

The Oklahoma City Thunder had just finished a season in which they reached the NBA Finals and it was believed that James Harden was a disappointment during that series against the Miami Heat. The Thunder and Harden were in contract negotiations on an extension, but they ultimately prioritized Serge Ibaka‘s defense and rim protection over Harden.

This allowed the Rockets to swoop in and steal Harden by trading Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, a 2013 1st round draft pick, a 2013 2nd round draft pick, and a 2014 1st round draft pick. That seemed like alot at the time, but we can certainly bet the Thunder wouldn’t make that trade again considering what they know now.

What would the Rockets look like if they hadn’t made this trade? We know they’ve not missed the playoffs since landing Harden in 2012.

Considering general manager Daryl Morey’s propensity for chasing stars it’s safe to say they would’ve pursued another star were it not for Harden. But who was available? Keep in mind by the time the Harden trade took place Steve Nash and Andre Iguodala had already been traded.

The only other players who had been moved that season who were remotely close to star potential were JJ Redick and Tobias Harris, and we hadn’t seen them become the players they’ve become at that point in their careers. The Boston Celtics moved Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry the following year but that seems like a direction the Rockets wouldn’t have gone, considering the asking price was four first round draft picks, which was far too much for aging players who were well past their prime.

Jrue Holiday was moved the following summer but the Rockets had just signed Lin the previous offseason so they didn’t have a need for another point guard. So what would they have done?

They likely would have stood pat and stocked up on draft picks, either waiting for the next big star to become available or hoping the draft picks panned out. We can certainly guarantee the Rockets wouldn’t have landed Dwight Howard the following offseason, considering how he joined the Rockets because of James Harden.

Next: No. 2