Current Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey carries a reputation of making a splash on the trade market if it means giving them a better chance to win a championship. With the team capped out, the Rockets don’t have a ton of financial flexibility at its disposal. Nonetheless, Morey has managed to stay creative in shaking up the roster in the way he sees fit.
This past off-season, Houston acquired Russell Westbrook in exchange for Chris Paul and some future picks. Likewise, they traded their only center in Clint Capela at the trade deadline and brought in Robert Covington to completely go all-in on small ball.
Only time will tell if this iteration of the Rockets, as a result of Morey’s rampant wheeling and dealing, will bring a championship to the franchise for the first time in two and a half decades. Throughout its history, Houston has also had its fair share of deals that altered the direction of the franchise. With that, let’s take a look at the five best trades in Houston Rockets history:
5. CP3 gives The Beard another star
Chris Paul’s tenure with the Rockets may not have ended in the best of terms, but his arrival in Houston almost won them a championship. Thus, this would have ranked higher had Houston actually successfully reached the mountaintop.
With Paul’s tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers crumbling, Morey pulled off a blockbuster deal to pair another star guard with incumbent superstar James Harden. In exchange for CP3, the Rockets dealt away fan favorite Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, and a ton more other assets for the 10-time All-Star.
In Paul’s debut campaign in Houston in the 2017-18 season, the Rockets boasted one of the most potent offenses in NBA history. They finished the regular season as the best team in the league, posting a franchise-best 67-15 record. More so, they looked to take down the powerhouse Golden State Warriors. They believed that their top-tier offense could take down the juggernaut team.
The Rockets came very close to knocking off Golden State. Unfortunately, CP3 injured his hamstring near the end of Game 5, with the Rockets on their way to a 3-2 series lead. Houston failed to close out the Warriors in the succeeding two contests with their All-Star point guard on the sidelines and lost the series despite holding homecourt advantage in the deciding Game 7.
Daryl Morey and Rockets fans still believe to this day that if Paul did not get injured, they would have already won their third title in franchise history.
4. T-Mac in H-Town
Tracy McGrady grew frustrated with his multiple losing seasons with the Orlando Magic. T-Mac had looked to compete in the East when he signed with the Magic as a free agent in the summer of 2000. However, a combination of Grant Hill’s bad luck with injury and roster incompetence failed to progress Orlando into nothing more than a fringe playoff team at best.
With that, the Rockets pounced on landing the disgruntled scoring champ from the Magic. Houston acquired McGrady in seven-player deal with Orlando to pair him alongside rising Chinese star Yao Ming. T-Mac’s arrival in Houston in the 2004-05 season towed them to their best record in a decade and back to postseason contention.
Unfortunately, throughout McGrady’s tenure with the franchise, Houston never made it out of the first round. Injuries later derailed the two-time scoring champ’s career. Nonetheless, McGrady still had some of his most memorable years in a Rockets uniform.
3. Moses Malone for free
The Rockets looked to usher in a new era. Houston found their franchise star in former ABA star Moses Malone.
Malone, who came from the ABA, had originally been selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the draft, but was traded to the Buffalo Braves. The 6-foot-10 center played two games with the Braves, but didn’t see much playing time. Thus, he demanded a trade.
The Rockets came in and only needed to ship two future first round picks for the future Hall of Famer. Those two picks ended up being Michael Ray Richardson, who had eight productive seasons in the league, and Wesley Cox, who played just 74 games in his two-year NBA career. It’s safe to say the Rockets got a bargain for an all-timer like Malone.
With the Rockets, Malone became a double-double monster, averaging 24.0 points and 15.0 rebounds in his six seasons with the franchise. He won two of his three MVP awards with the Rockets in 1978-79 and 1981-82 and led Houston to an NBA Finals appearance in 1981. Unfortunately, Malone ended his tenure with the Rockets without winning a championship.
2. Clyde Drexler helps Houston go to back-to-back
Houston just won the 1994 NBA championship. However, they struggled through the first half of the 1994-95 season. Looking to improve their chances of successfully defending their title, the Rockets brought in Clyde Drexler via a mid-season trade in exchange for Otis Thorpe. Drexler was a long-time friend of and roommates with Rockets superstar Hakeem Olajuwon at the University of Houston.
The Rockets wound up winning just 47 games in the regular season, finishing sixth in the West. However, Drexler proved to be a key acquisition after he led the Rockets’ come back effort in the deciding Game 5 against the 60-22 Utah Jazz in the opening round of the postseason.
Houston also needed to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in their following series against the Phoenix Suns. After that, they knocked off the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs led by reigning MVP David Robinson to return to the NBA Finals. At the time, they became the lowest seeded team to make the championship round.
In the Finals, Houston made quick work of the upstart Orlando Magic and swept them in the Finals. Drexler was a key contributor throughout the Houston’s quest for a back-to-back, posting averages of 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists throughout the playoffs.
1. Landing their “Foundational Player” in James Harden
Many would consider this trade as the heist of the 2010’s. And it’s all because of Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti’s unwillingness to pay James Harden. After going to the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder definitely looked like the team of the future. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all 23 years old and under at the time, championships were all but guaranteed in OKC’s future.
However, as mentioned, the Thunder front office didn’t want to pay Harden — who was up for restricted free agency the following summer — a max deal. Thus, Oklahoma City looked to shop the promising two-guard. In came Daryl Morey and the Rockets, who offered veteran Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two future first round picks, and a second round pick for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, along with some other pieces.
Along with the Boston-Brooklyn deal, this is right up there in terms of the biggest steals of the decade. Many like to play the “what if” game had Oklahoma City done its due diligence in keeping The Beard and in turn, keeping the Durant-Westbrook-Harden Big Three intact for years to come.
Nonetheless, Morey clearly salivated for a player like Harden. He called his prized acquisition a “foundational player.” Needless to say, Morey was spot on with his assessment. Harden eventually became one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and a league MVP for the Rockets in the 2017-18 season.
Can Houston win at least one championship in the James Harden era? Daryl Morey will certainly stop at nothing to achieve that.