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Why the Houston Rockets Shouldn’t Push For the Playoffs Next Season

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets
Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets / Sarah Stier/GettyImages
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Houston Rocket fans have grown impatient with the franchise’s rebuild. A growing segment among the Rockets faithful wants the franchise to turbocharge the rebuild, ditch tanking, and pursue the playoffs as soon as next season. Their reasons vary, but the fanbase’s apathy towards losing has as much to do with the team’s present as it does with their past. 

After an incredibly successful eight-season run with James Harden, the Rockets have been marooned in a strange and distant land called “the lottery.” With Harden, wins were plentiful, contention was a near given, and the playoffs were a birthright. After his departure, wins have become as scarce as water on the planet Arrakis, contention is a distant dream, and the playoffs are a story the village elders tell children around the campfire. 

Recapturing the not too distant glory days is an understandable pursuit, but rushing it could make obtaining those lofty ambitions far more difficult. The Rockets' rebuild is different than the others. It will require patience, pain, and, like all rebuilds, good fortune. 

3 Reasons the Rockets Rebuild is Unique

The Rockets' rebuild is unique for three key reasons. The first is a product of their continued success. Through constant trades to fortify the roster, the Rockets didn’t make a selection in the first round from 2016 to 2020. 

Five full years without a first-round pick gave the Rockets no bridge to the future. The Harden era was as all-in as a franchise can be, and it meant when it ended there was bound to be a period of pain. 

The second distinguishing part of the Rockets' rebuild is how it was thrust upon the franchise eight games into the 2020-21 season. The franchise entered the summer/fall of the 2020 offseason with the intention of making the playoffs. 

Even after Russell Westbrook asked for a trade, the Rockets intended to build a roster around James Harden capable of making another playoff push. If they had known Harden’s intention to leave, their return for Westbrook would have been unlikely to include John Wall and a highly protected first-round pick. 

When Harden asked for a trade after a few games, the Rockets were hung out to dry. They had a roster designed to compete right away with Harden at the center. Without him, they had a dumpster fire and missed an entire offseason to start building for the future. 

Related. What James Harden Leaving The Brooklyn Nets Means for the Rockets. dark

The third key that makes the Rockets’ rebuild different is the return they received for Harden. The franchise opted for an unprecedented draft haul over proven commodities with multiple years of team control. The decision wasn’t the wrong one, necessarily, but it meant that there would be few immediate gains from trading James Harden; unless you’re the biggest Victor Oladipo fan ever. The Harden trade improved the franchise's outlook for 2030, but it did hardly anything to move the needle in 2022.

The reality is, that the Rockets' rebuild didn’t begin in earnest until the summer of 2021, and it began with no semblance of a young core in place. Before the Rockets made four selections in the 2021 NBA Draft, they had one under-25 player of consequence in Kevin Porter Jr on the roster. 

Next: Why the Rockets Can’t Abandon the Tank

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