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How the Rockets missed out on landing an All-Star big man

Derrick Coleman #44 of the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Derrick Coleman #44 of the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets missed the postseason during the 2005-06 season, as they were handicapped without Yao Ming. But could Derrick Coleman have changed that outcome for the season?

When the Houston Rockets traded for Tracy McGrady in 2004, it was clear that they were forming a super-duo, as McGrady was joining forces with Yao Ming, who both eventually became Hall of Famers. McGrady and Yao had both been All-NBA performers prior to T-Mac’s arrival to the Space City, and McGrady had just won back-to-back scoring titles in the two seasons leading up to him joining the Rockets.

The Rockets won 51 games in his first season in Houston, which was more wins than they had eclipsed in each of the previous seven years. The Rockets finished with the fifth seed in the Western Conference, which was their best finish since the 1998-99 season, which was ironically the last postseason appearance for Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.

With the instant success of the Yao and McGrady pairing, expectations were high for the 2005-06 season, as McGrady and Yao were both named All-Stars during the 2004-05 season, and McGrady made the All-NBA Third Team. But the Rockets regressed in the second year of the star pairing, as Yao and McGrady both missed a combined 60 games, leading to them missing the postseason altogether.

The Rockets went 34-48 that season, which represented their worst record of McGrady’s time in Houston. But could it have been prevented with one roster addition? The Rockets tried to make a run at Derrick Coleman, who was the top pick in the 1990 NBA Draft and a former All-Star big man.

How the Houston Rockets missed out on signing an All-Star big man

Coleman was coming off a disappointing season with the Detroit Pistons, who didn’t give him much playing time, as he only played in five total games for the 2004-05 season. Coleman explained on the Knuckleheads podcast that the experiment with the Pistons left a sour taste in his mouth and made him lose his passion for basketball, which led to him rejecting the Rockets’ overtures and declining to sign with them.

“That hurt me more than anything, just sitting there watching. I still haven’t signed my retirement papers, that’s how pissed off I was. Jason Kidd called me, because he wanted me to come back to Jersey.

Toronto had called me, Houston called me. I just wasn’t feeling it. That was the first time I had moved my family home. I didn’t want to re-up my kids, so I was like I’m done.”

Coleman posted career averages of 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds throughout his 15-year playing career and posted averages of 19.9 points and 10.6 rebounds during his first five seasons in the NBA. Although Coleman likely wouldn’t have played to the same All-Star level he performed at earlier in his career, he wasn’t far removed from the 2001-02 season in which he averaged 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.

The Rockets mainly turned to Dikembe Mutombo to fill in for Yao, and although Mutombo had a stellar playing career, he wasn’t the same player in the 2005-06 season, as he posted averages of 2.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. It’s highly unlikely that Coleman would’ve helped the Rockets get into the postseason that year, as they finished 10 games back from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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But it’s possible that Coleman could have helped to extend Yao’s career, as he could have allowed the Rockets to reduce Yao’s workload to 30 minutes, which would have come in handy, considering Yao’s heavy minutes. But after feeling spurned in Detroit, it’s hard to blame Coleman for deciding to end his career instead of joining the Rockets, or any other team, for that matter.

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