16 Players the Houston Rockets gave up on way too soon

Houston Rockets, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry
Houston Rockets, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry / Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
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13. John Lucas

The Rockets drafted Lucas with the number one overall pick in 1976, and he immediately cracked the rotation. The rookie was the fourth-leading scorer as Houston reached the conference finals before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. It was not until 1980 that the Rockets moved to the Western Conference.

Injuries hampered the Rockets in Lucas’ second season, but the 6’3 guard averaged 12.4 points, 9.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in 35.8 minutes per game. Houston was desperate to get back into the hunt, so they signed Rick Barry in the 1978 offseason, and Lucas was shipped to Golden State as part of the compensation.

Lucas had one of the best seasons of his career in year one with the Warriors. He averaged 16.1 points, 9.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in 37.7 minutes per game. The Dubs missed the playoffs, and things took a downturn from there. Lucas’ production dipped, and he battled an addiction that nearly knocked him out of the NBA.

John Lucas got things back on track in 1983 with the Spurs before returning to Houston in 1984. He helped the Rockets make a 19-win improvement in year one and had them back in the playoffs. In year two, Houston reached the NBA Finals, but Lucas was waived in March after two failed drug tests.

Lucas helped the Bucks reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 1987 and had arguably the best year of his career. He spent three more years in the NBA as a role player before retiring in 1990. The Houston Rockets gave up on John Lucas too soon twice, and he could have been the difference in the 1986 NBA Finals.