The Houston Rockets were one of the best teams of the 90s, winning two championships and over 300 games between 1990-96, but did they break up the core too soon?
The Houston Rockets of the 1990s had the best decade-long run in the franchise’s history, winning two championships along the way. While they were certainly the second-best team of the decade, they could’ve had even more success if they didn’t break up the squad so quickly.
A series loss to their playoff nemesis, the Seattle SuperSonics, in 1996 effectively ended up being the end of the Clutch City era as we knew it, as the team’s young core was traded away that offseason.
As I’ve come to find out in speaking with some former Rockets, many feel that breaking up that core was a bit premature. Was there possibly a way to keep most of the title-run team together, and what could have been the result if so?
The Trade that Broke up the Title-winning Rockets Core
The SuperSonics bookended Houston’s titles, knocking them out in seven games in 1993 and in a four-game sweep in 1996. Even though the final three games were close in the second series, Rockets management didn’t feel that the roster was good enough to compete anymore for championships.
The Rockets had been pursuing Charles Barkley for the entire 1996 offseason. Barkley had made it known that he would retire if not sent to a championship-caliber team as his relationship with the Phoenix Suns had reached a breaking point.
The Rockets initially offered Robert Horry and Sam Cassell to the Denver Nuggets in a deal that would send Dikembe Mutombo to Phoenix and Barkley to Houston, but the NBA rejected that deal.
When that failed, the Rockets reluctantly added Mark Bryant to the trade along with Chucky Brown. All four players were free agents at the time and all went to the Suns for Barkley.