Following the Houston Rockets' 2020 playoff defeat against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets faced a cloud of uncertainty. Former Coach of the Year Mike D'Antoni stepped down, followed by former Executive of the Year Daryl Morey, who had become the face of the Rockets' analytical-powered style of play.
But although those were huge losses, they trailed in comparison to James Harden, who had also made it known that he wanted out of Houston. The Rockets made it known that they didn't want to deal Harden, as they tried to get him to give the 2020-21 group a chance, as they made several key roster changes, adding Christian Wood and John Wall.
Harden wasn't swayed one bit, and he was eventually dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, which was his preferred destination all along. The Rockets would go on a 20-game losing streak shortly after dealing Harden, and finished the season with a 17-55 record.
Analyst says Houston Rockets could become contenders fairly quickly
But in spite of the Rockets' poor finish to the season, they could morph into contenders quicker than expected, as explained by Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report on ESPN's The Hoop Collective podcast.
"I don't think fans realize how thin the line can be between contending and tanking. Like you can flip a coin, like with James Harden, they were right there, year after year in the conversation for a championship.
He wants out, they trade him, they have the #2 pick. These front offices realize you can flip this thing around pretty quickly.
Put your chips on the table and look like the Atlanta Hawks or the Phoenix Suns. You can be out of the playoff picture and right back in the Conference Finals or the Finals pretty soon if you get the right talent.
Even if you lose James Harden, you could be right back in it in a few years with the guy that you drafted as a result of them leaving."
The Rockets lucked up in the draft lottery and secured the second pick in the draft, which they used on Jalen Green, who has drawn comparisons to Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine, while also nabbing Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and Josh Christopher all in the first round. In addition, the Rockets still hold the Brooklyn Nets' 2022, 2024, and 2026 first-round picks, not to mention the right to swap picks in 2023. 2025, and 2027.
If the Rockets get the development out of their rookies and are able to strike gold in future drafts, much like they appeared to do in 2021, Fischer could be right about them morphing into contenders fairly quickly.