The Houston Rockets are on the cusp of the wrong type of history, the losing three-peat.
The Houston Rockets have performed the rare feat of going back-to-back at the bottom of the league. The last team to repeat the worst record in the league was the 2000-01 and 2001-02 Chicago Bulls. Over that same period, three teams (Lakers, Heat, Warriors) repeated as champions four different times. However, no team in NBA and BAA history has ever pulled off a three-peat at the bottom, but the Rockets are knocking at the door of the wrong type of history.
The Rockets are losing talent this offseason
With the 2023 NBA Draft projected to be historic, the competition to rack up losses will be fierce, but the Rockets are already pushing their chips into the center to embark towards uncharted territory. Their first move was to trade Christian Wood. It was a necessary move, but he was their best player by many measures. Potentially adding to the talent exodus, Eric Gordon is in trade rumors and Kenyon Martin Jr has made it known that he could be angling for a move.
Wood was the only Rocket with a positive box plus/minus (BPM) and he, Martin, and Gordon made up three of their top-four in offensive BPM. Losing that much production will put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Rockets’ remaining young core.
The young core is going to be tested
While there’s a real chance that this season’s Rockets are worse than last season’s, it is also full of upside. Jalen Green was horrible over his first 36 games but was excellent to close the season. Kevin Porter Jr was also horrible out of the gate, but he too turned it around. Alperen Sengun was a per-minute monster but didn’t play enough minutes for it to register, and that's before mentioning who they will select with the third pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
With all that being said, the rest of the roster will be thin on NBA-ready contributors. Garrison Mathews is a great bench player with a few elite traits but equal deficiencies, Jae’Sean Tate is a versatile defender, but his lack of a 3-point shot limits his effectiveness, Josh Christopher remains a few seasons away from being a positive contributor, and Usman Garuba is a total mystery.
It can’t be forgotten that John Wall and his massive cap hit aren’t going anywhere in a trade so there won’t be a wave of free agents coming in to save the day. The roster is going to be extremely young, extremely exciting, and most of all, extremely frustrating.
The Rockets are going to need significant growth from one or two of Sengun, Porter, and Green and for the third overall pick to hit the ground running to avoid staring the worst record in the league in the face. All of that is possible, but banking on the best possible outcome is how people leave casinos in debt.
Why being the worst isn't a bad thing
Finishing with the worst record wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. As mentioned earlier, the 2023 Draft is expected to be historic. Victor Wembanyama is the best prospect since LeBron James, and if it wasn’t for him sucking the oxygen out of the room another three or four prospects would be garnering the same type of hype that Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr, and Paolo Banchero enjoyed heading into their pre-draft seasons.
The Rockets are on the cusp of the wrong type of history, but that shouldn’t worry the fanbase. They’ve quickly accumulated young high-end talent, and unless they finish the season with well under 20 wins, they won’t have rattled off the worst three-year stretch in NBA history.
The NBA Draft is designed to prevent teams from staying at the bottom of the league. If the Rockets nail their pick this year and the next, then everyone will forget if they three-peat at the bottom. Remember, banners hang forever, and losing seasons inevitably fade into the ether.