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
Michael Jordan (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

1. Rockets land Michael Jordan

While many basketball experts have wondered how the Rockets would have fared in the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, there’s a far greater question regarding MJ. What if he were on the Rockets?

The idea ought to make Rockets’ fans salivate as Jordan went on to become the greatest player in NBA history. Jordan went 6-for-6 in the NBA Finals and is the player who is most often brought up whenever we discuss the qualifications of a great player.

We always hear the LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons, which is actually a compliment to LeBron that he’s compared to MJ. Although these comparisons are always made between the two, both players had significantly different styles of play, as LeBron has the passing ability of Magic Johnson and is a far better 3-point shooter than Jordan ever was.

Speaking of Jordan, Rockets general manager recently issued praise for Houston Rockets guard James Harden by stating that Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan, which drew quite the outcry. For as great of a player Jordan became in Chicago, he almost landed in Houston.

During the 1984 NBA Draft, the Rockets had the first pick due to their 29-53 record during the 1983-84 season, which was Ralph Sampson‘s first season in the NBA. Sampson averaged 21 points, 11. rebounds and 2.4 blocks, which was good enough to make the All-Star team.

The Rockets were poised to draft University of Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon, which seemed like a great pairing with Sampson, as it would have given the Rockets the original “Twin Towers.” But the Rockets faced an interesting proposition.

In Hakeem Olajuwon’s book “Living the Dream”, he stated the Portland Trail Blazers were offering the second overall pick and Clyde Drexler to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Ralph Sampson, which had to at least tempt the Rockets. This would have allowed the Rockets to select Michael Jordan, and would have paired him with Olajuwon and Drexler. Imagine that.

Drexler had just wrapped up his rookie season, which was quite disappointing. He couldn’t crack the Blazers’ starting rotation and only averaged 7.7 points per game, which is likely why the Blazers were offering him to the Rockets. From that standpoint, why would the Rockets have given up a promising young All-Star like Sampson for an unproven player in Drexler?

This is what gets overlooked regarding this proposition, as Drexler hadn’t shown signs of the Hall of Famer he eventually became. Drexler was eventually named to eight All-Star teams and played ten more seasons in Portland, as he developed into a star before being traded to the Rockets in 1994.

Olajuwon and Drexler did win a championship together, but how many would the Rockets have won with Jordan teamed up with both players? It’s fair to say this trio would have landed Hakeem Olajuwon far more than just two titles.

Since we now have the advantage of knowing exactly what Drexler accomplished, it seems like a no-brainer to have brought him to Houston earlier in his career. But would he have had the same development if he were Houston all along?

That’s the only debatable part of the trade however, as Jordan and Olajuwon seemed like surefire superstars before they ever played an NBA game. The only question regarding the potential “Big Three” is regarding how many titles they would have won.

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Would they have won six? Or seven? After all, the Houston Rockets did win two championships without Jordan, and they won the first one without Drexler. If only they pulled the trigger on the Blazers’ deal.