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Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets
33px2014–15 Houston Rockets season
Houston Rockets logo
Conference Western
Division Southwest
Founded 1967
History San Diego Rockets
Houston Rockets
Arena Toyota Center
City Houston, Texas
Team colors Red, Silver, White, Mustard, Black[1]
Owner(s) Leslie Alexander[2]
General manager Daryl Morey
Head coach Kevin McHale
D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Championships 2 (1994, 1995)
Conference titles 4 (1981, 1986, 1994, 1995)
Division titles 5 (1977, 1986, 1993, 1994, 2015)
Retired numbers 6 (22, 23, 24, 34, 45, CD)
Official website

The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team based in Houston, Texas, that competes in the National Basketball Association (NBA). They are members of the Southwest Division of the league's Western Conference. The Rockets play their home games at Toyota Center, located in downtown Houston. The Rockets have won two NBA championships and four Western Conference titles. The team was established in 1967 and played in San Diego, California for four years as the San Diego Rockets, before moving to Houston in 1971.[3]

The Rockets won only 15 games in their debut season as a franchise in 1967. In the 1969 NBA Draft, the Rockets selected power forward Elvin Hayes first overall, who would lead the team to their first playoff appearance in his rookie season. The Rockets did not finish a season with a winning record until the 1976-1977 season, when they traded for center Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award twice, and lead Houston to the conference finals in his first year with the team. He also led the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1981 where they were defeated in six games by the Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird and current Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.[4]

In 1984, the Rockets drafted center Hakeem Olajuwon, who would be paired with 7'4" Ralph Sampson, forming one of the tallest front courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the "Twin Towers", they led the team to the 1986 NBA Finals—the second NBA Finals berth in franchise history—where they were again defeated by the Boston Celtics. The Rockets continued to reach the playoffs throughout the 1980s, but they failed to advance past the second round for the rest of the decade. Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991–1992 season, ushering in the most successful period in franchise history. The Rockets would reach the 1994 NBA Finals, where Olajuwon led the team to the franchise's first championship against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. The team repeated as champions in 1995 as the sixth seed in the West and swept the favored Orlando Magic led by a young Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. They became the lowest-seeded team in NBA history to win the title.

The Rockets acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley in 1996, but the presence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) was not enough to propel Houston past the Western Conference Finals. Each one of the aging trio had left the team by 2001, and the Rockets of the early 21st century, led by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, followed the trend of consistent regular-season respectability followed by playoff underachievement as both players struggled with injuries. After Yao's early retirement in 2011, the Rockets entered a period of rebuilding, completely dismantling and retooling their roster. The recent acquisitions of franchise players James Harden and Dwight Howard have launched the Rockets back into championship contention. The Rockets, under general manager Daryl Morey, are notable for popularizing the use of advanced statistical analytics (similar to sabermetrics in baseball) in player acquisitions and style of play.

Franchise history

1967–1971: San Diego Rockets

File:Elvin Hayes.jpg
Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes was selected first overall by the San Diego Rockets in the 1968 NBA Draft.
The Rockets were founded in 1967 in San Diego, and after being bought by Robert Breitbard for US$1.75 million,[3] they joined the NBA as an expansion team for the 1967–68 NBA season.[5] The resulting contest to name the franchise chose the name "Rockets", homaging San Diego's theme of "a city in motion" and the local arm of General Dynamics developing the Atlas missile and booster rocket program.[3][6] Breitbard brought in Jack McMahon, then coach of the Cincinnati Royals, to serve as the Rockets' coach and general manager.[6][7] The team, that would join the league along with the Seattle SuperSonics, then built its roster with both veteran players at an expansion draft, and college players in the 1967 NBA draft, where San Diego's first ever draft pick was Pat Riley.[8][9] The Rockets lost 70 games in their inaugural season,[10] which was then an NBA record for losses in a season.[11]

In 1968, after the Rockets won a coin toss against the Baltimore Bullets to determine who would have the first overall pick in the 1968 NBA Draft,[12] they selected Elvin Hayes from the University of Houston.[13] Hayes led the team to the franchise's first ever playoff appearance in 1969,[14] but the Rockets lost in the semi-finals of the Western Division to the Atlanta Hawks, four games to two.[14] In 1970, the Rockets drafted future Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy and future Rockets championship coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who would both play for the Rockets all their careers, and would make the NBA All-Star Team several times.[15][16]

Coached by Hall of Fame coach Alex Hannum, the Rockets tallied a 57–97 record in the following two seasons, and did not make the playoffs in either season.[17][18] Because of the low performance and attendance, Breitbard looked to sell the team,[3] and in 1971, Texas Sports Investments, which was led by real estate broker Wayne Duddleston and banker Billy Goldberg, bought the franchise for $5.6 million, and moved the team to Houston.[3] The franchise became the first NBA team in Texas.[19] The team's nickname of "Rockets" took on even greater relevance after the move, given Houston's long connection to the space industry.[20]

1971–1976: Improving in Houston with Murphy and Rudy-T

Before the start of the 1971–72 NBA season, Hannum left for the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association (the Denver Rockets would become the Denver Nuggets as a result of the ABA-NBA merger in 1976),[21] and Tex Winter was hired in his place.[22] However, Winter, who said that Hayes had "the worst fundamentals of any player" he had ever coached,[23] applied a system that contrasted with the offensive style to which Hayes was accustomed. Because of the differences between Winter and Hayes, Houston traded Hayes, who had led the Rockets in scoring for four straight years,[4] to the Baltimore Bullets for Jack Marin at the end of the 1971–72 season. It was also around this time that the Rockets would use their classic logo used until the end of the 1994–95 season.[24] Winter left soon after, in the spring of 1973, following the Rockets 10th straight loss,[22] and he was replaced by Johnny Egan.[25]

In 1974 the Rockets unveiled their classic uniforms that matched the font of the logo and would be used for the next 21 years. In the 1975 NBA Playoffs they would not only make their first appearance since 1969 in San Diego but also advanced to the second round past the New York Knicks 2 games to 1 and advanced to meet the veteran Boston Celtics, which shut the young Rockets down in 5 games. At that time the Rockets gained popularity in Houston, selling out several home games down the stretch of the regular season as the Rockets battled for a playoff spot and then selling out all of their home playoff games.

1976–1982: The Moses Malone era

In the 1975–76 NBA season the Rockets finally had a permanent home in Houston as they moved into The Summit, which they would call home for the next 29 years. The following season (after missing the 1976 playoffs), under coach Egan's guidance, as well as ABA Newcomer Moses Malone and veterans Tomjanovich, Murphy, and Mike Newlin to help lead the way, the Rockets won the franchise's first division title, the 1977 Central Division title at 49–33, and made their second appearance in the playoffs since arriving in Houston.[4] After a first round bye for having the second best record in the East, the Rockets defeated the Washington Bullets led by former Rocket Elvin Hayes as well as Bullet stars Wes Unseld and Dave Bing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4–2, but lost to the Philadelphia 76ers led by former ABA star Julius Erving 4 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.[26]

Early into the 1977–78 season, at a game on December 9, 1977, Kevin Kunnert got into a fight with Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers. As Tomjanovich approached the altercation, Washington turned and threw a punch that landed squarely in the face of an approaching Tomjanovich, causing numerous fractures in his face.[27] Tomjanovich spent the next five months in rehabilitation and was not available for selection in the 1978 All-Star Game, and Malone went in his place as the lone Rocket All-Star that season. Rudy-T's averages for the season significantly declined after the injury,[28] and without the leadership of team captain Rudy-T, Houston finished with just 28 wins in the season, despite an excellent season by Calvin Murphy.[29]

In the following season, Malone, Murphy, and Tomjanovich all played in the 1979 NBA All-Star Game, and "The Chairman Of The Boards" Moses Malone received the 1979 MVP Award.[30] The Rockets also sent John Lucas II to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Rick Barry, who went on to set the NBA record at the time for free throw percentage in a season by shooting 94.7%.[31] The Rockets went 47–35 in Nissalke's last season as coach, and finished second in the Central Division, but were swept 2–0 against Atlanta in a best-of-three first-round series.[32] In Houston's 1979–80 campaign, Del Harris replaced Nissalke as head coach, and he led the Rockets to a 41–41 record, tying the San Antonio Spurs for second place in the Central Division.[33] After the Rockets defeated the Spurs two games to one in their first-round playoff series, they were swept by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, led by rookie Larry Bird.[33]

In 1979 George Maloof, a businessperson from Albuquerque, New Mexico, bought the Rockets for $9 million. Bill Schadewald of the Houston Business Journal said that, at that time, "I could arrive just before game time, pay a desperate scalper two bucks for a ticket and sit just about anywhere in The Summit."[34]

In the 1980–81 season, after the newly established Dallas Mavericks became the third NBA team in Texas,[35] the NBA restructured the conferences and sent the Rockets, who had previously played in the Eastern Conference, to the Midwest Division of the Western Conference. In Harris's second season, Houston tied with Kansas City for second place in the Midwest Division behind San Antonio with a 40–42 record, and qualified for the playoffs with just one game left.[36] During the season, Murphy set two NBA records, by sinking 78 consecutive free throws to break Rick Barry's mark of 60 set in 1976, and achieving a free-throw percentage of .958, breaking Barry's record set with the Rockets in 1979.[37]

In the playoffs, Houston began a run that began when they upset Los Angeles two games to one, and then confronting George Gervin's San Antonio Spurs in a classic Battle of Texas, which would see the Rockets defeat the Spurs four games to three in the Western Conference semifinals, ending in a climactic Game 7 at the hostile HemisFair Arena where Calvin Murphy would score a playoff career-high 42 points.[38] This resulted in a surprise conference finals matchup with the likewise 40–42 Kansas City Kings, who were led by Otis Birdsong, Scott Wedman, and Phil Ford. When the Kings fell to the Rockets in five games,[38] the Rockets became only the second team in NBA history (after the 1959 Minneapolis Lakers) to advanced to the Finals after having a losing record in the regular season, and thus met Larry Bird's Boston Celtics in the finals round.[39] However, after blowing a late lead in Game 1 against the Celtics, and actually winning Game 2 at the legendary Boston Garden, the Rockets failed to capitalize on the early surprising success against the favored Celtics, and Houston eventually lost in six games.[40] During the Playoff run, the Rockets received strong play from Mike Dunleavy, Calvin Murphy, Tom Henderson, Bill Willoughby, Billy Paultz, Allen Leavell, Robert Reid, Major Jones, and even an older Rudy Tomjanovich who hit critical free throws in game 2, in addition to the superb performance of Moses Malone.

1983–1987: The Twin Towers

The following season, the Rockets improved their regular season mark to 46–36 but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.[41] Although Malone won the league's Most Valuable Player award in that season,[30] in the following offseason, the Rockets traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Caldwell Jones,[30] to avoid paying his salary, which was a decision the Rockets were forced to make as they were low on funds due to a declining regional economy at the time.[42] When the Rockets finished a league worst 14–68,[43] Celtics coach Bill Fitch was hired to replace outgoing Del Harris,[42] and after winning a coin flip with the Indiana Pacers to obtain the first pick of the 1983 NBA Draft,[42] the Rockets selected Ralph Sampson from the University of Virginia.[44]

Although the Rockets finished only 29–53 in the 1983–1984 season, Ralph Sampson was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year award,[45] after averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game.[45] Houston was again given the first pick of the 1984 NBA Draft, and they used it to select Hakeem Olajuwon from the University of Houston.[46] In his first season, Olajuwon finished second to Michael Jordan in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting,[47] and the Rockets record improved by 19 games good for 2nd place in the Midwest division (after Denver) and the third seed in the west, though they were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the sixth seeded Utah Jazz.[48] In the following season, both Olajuwon and Sampson were named to the Western Conference All-Stars in that year's all-star game,[49] and the duo was nicknamed the "Twin Towers".[50]

The next season Houston won the Midwest Division title with a 51–31 record. One game against the Phoenix Suns epitomized the effectiveness and promise of the Twin Towers in which Ralph Sampson bringing the ball up-court passed an alley-oop to an eager Hakeem Olajuwon far above the reach of their opponents. In the playoffs, the Rockets breezed past the Sacramento Kings in a 3–0 first round sweep, but struggled with Alex English's Denver Nuggets, including one game going to double overtime in the exhausting altitude of the Mile-High City. The young squad grinded it out and eventually pulled away with the victory over the Nuggets 4–2. When faced with defending champion Lakers in the Conference Finals, the Rockets were ready to knock off their rivals who had the best of them during the regular season. The Rockets, however, were blown out of Game 1 with Olajuwon's spinning reverse dunks and Sampson's alley-oops notwithstanding. Embarrassed by the loss, Olajuwon and the Rockets stormed back to shock the star-studded defending champions with 4 straight wins in an impressive four games to one series victory, a feat that no other Western Conference team had come close to doing against the Showtime Lakers. In Game 5 of that series in Los Angeles, Olajuwon had been ejected for fighting with Mitch Kupchak and the Rockets were down 3 with less than 30 seconds left. Robert Reid hit the critical 3 point shot to tie the game with 17 seconds left, and perennial back-up guard Allen Leavell pulled down a key rebound off a Byron Scott miss and wisely called time out with only a fraction of a second left, allowing the Rockets to inbound the ball at half-court. Pat Riley did not have anybody guard the inbounds pass which allowed Rodney McCray a clean pass to Sampson who launched a miraculous, twisting turnaround jumper that bounced straight up off the rim before sailing through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Rockets a 114–112 victory that launched them into the Finals.

File:1987 NBA Western Conference Semifinals - Game 2 - Seattle SuperSonics at Houston Rockets 1987-05-05 (ticket).jpg
A ticket for Game 2 of the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals between the Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics.

In the NBA Finals the Rockets faced Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. Boston sportswriters were not happy about not getting a shot at revenge against the Lakers who had beaten the Celtics in the Finals the year before, yet the matchup was interesting with the young front court challenging the playoff-hardened Celtics front court of Bird, McHale and Parish. During the season at the Boston Garden, the Rockets were playing the Celtics well until Sampson suffered a jarring fall on his back. At the start of the Finals, Sampson quickly found himself in foul trouble early in game one as Boston held its serve easily leading 2–0 going back to Houston. Houston won a close game 3 under the leadership of Sampson (and the national anthem sung by one Willie Nelson). Game 4 also went down to the wire with the Celtics pulling it out on late Larry Bird 3 pointer heroics and untimely turnovers by Rockets guard Mitch Wiggins. In a similarly close Game 5 in Houston (under the 2–3–2 format) Sampson inexplicably and unprofessionally succumbed to taunting by the much smaller 6-foot-1 Boston guard Jerry Sichting resulting in Sampson taking a swing and an ejection from the game. Strangely, this fired up the Rockets who won game 5 by 15 points without Ralph thanks to the inspired play of Hakeem Olajuwon, Jim Peterson and Robert "Bobby Jo" Reid. Game 6 went back to Boston with Sampson finding himself again in foul trouble and of little effect against the older and wiser Celtic front court of Bird, McHale and Parish. After the series, Boston coach KC Jones called the Rockets, "the new monsters on the block" with the future looking very bright for the Rockets. During the six-game championship series loss against the Celtics, Sampson averaged 14.8 points on .438 shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. The Rockets again made the playoffs, and advanced to the second round past favored Clyde Drexler and his Portland Trail Blazers (eventually proving to be their last playoff victory until 1993), before being eliminated by the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 6, a double-overtime classic in which Olajuwon scored 49 points in the losing cause.[51] Early in the 1987–88 season, Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors, bringing the Twin Towers era to an end. Sampson's once-promising career was shortened due to chronic knee injuries, which forced his retirement in 1991. KC Jones' prophecy of the Rockets being the "new monsters on the block" never materialized until the early 90's.

1987–1992: Lean years

In the next five seasons, the Rockets were either eliminated in the first round of the playoffs[52][53][54] or from playoff contention, with Don Chaney replacing Fitch as head coach in 1988.[55]

Chaney, also a former Celtic, was named the Coach of the Year for the 1990–91 season,[55] but the Rockets were once again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, 3–0 to the Lakers.[56] While Olajuwon continued to post all-star numbers, he didn't receive the needed support from his teammates. Nevertheless, the Rockets began to rebuild their nucleus that would later make an impact in the years to come, with players such as Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry, Mario Elie, Sam Cassell and Otis Thorpe arriving during this period.

Midway through the next season, with the Rockets' record only 26–26, Chaney was replaced by former Houston player Rudy Tomjanovich.[57] Although the Rockets did not make the playoffs,[57] in the next year, the Rockets won-loss record improved by 13 games, as they won 55 games.[58] However, the Seattle SuperSonics eliminated them in the conference semifinals in a game 7 overtime loss.[58] Nevertheless, the 1993 season was a step forward in the team's development, which would materialize the following year.

1993–1995: Championship Era

On July 30, 1993, Leslie Alexander purchased the Rockets for $85 million.[59] In Tomjanovich's second full year as head coach, the Rockets began the 1993–94 season by tying an NBA record with a start of 15–0.[60] Led by Olajuwon, who was named the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year,[61] the Rockets won a franchise-record 58 games.[4][62] The Rockets recovered from being two games down to the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the playoffs,[63] to advance to the finals.[62] Houston was once again down by three games to two to the New York Knicks, but they managed to win the last two games on their home court, and claim their first championship in franchise history.[4] Olajuwon was awarded the Finals MVP, after averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots a game, and after close to a quarter of a century associated with the Rockets, Rudy Tomjanovich finally won a championship ring as head coach.[61]

The Rockets initially struggled in the first half of the 1994–95 season,[64] and ended up winning only 47 games, which was 11 games lower than their previous year's total.[62][65] In a midseason trade with Portland, the Rockets obtained guard Clyde Drexler, a former teammate of Olajuwon at the University of Houston,[66] in exchange for Otis Thorpe.[67] Houston entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, but managed to defeat the 60–22 Utah Jazz in the first round.[65] They fell behind 3–1 to the 59–23 Phoenix Suns in the second round, but won three straight to win the series, and became the first team in NBA history to overcome both a 2–0 and 3–1 series deficit in a seven-game series.[68] The Rockets then beat the 62–20 San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals,[65] to reach the Finals against the Orlando Magic, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway.[69] When Houston swept the series in four straight games,[65] they became the first team in NBA history to win the championship as a sixth seed, and the first to beat four 50-win teams in a single postseason en route to the championship.[70] Olajuwon, who had averaged 35.3 points and 12.5 rebounds against the Spurs and regular-season MVP David Robinson in the conference finals,[71] was named the Finals MVP, becoming only the second player after Michael Jordan to win the award two years in a row.[70]

1995–2001: Post-Championship and rebuilding

The Rockets won 48 games in the 1995–96 campaign,[72] in which Olajuwon became the NBA's all-time leader in blocked shots.[73] They beat the Lakers featuring a brief comeback by Magic Johnson in the first round of the playoffs, but were swept by the Seattle SuperSonics in the second round.[72]

Before the start of the succeeding season, the Rockets made a dramatic trade that sent four players to Phoenix for Charles Barkley.[74] The resulting "Big Three" of Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley led the Rockets to a 57–25 record,[75] and Houston swept Minnesota in the first round. However, after a 7-game battle with Seattle, the Rockets fell in the Western Conference finals to the Utah Jazz 4-2 on a dramatic last-second shot by John Stockton, the Jazz being a team they had beaten on their way to championships in 1994 and 1995.[75] Despite not winning the NBA championship that year, the 1996-97 season is still considered as one of the team's greatest moments in franchise history.

The 1997–98 season was marked by injuries,[76] and the team finished 41–41 with the 8th seed in the Western Conference.[77] Houston once again faced the Jazz, this time in the first round, and they lost the series 3–2.[77] Drexler retired after the season,[78] and the Rockets made another bold trade to bring in Scottie Pippen to take his place.[79] In the strike-shortened 1998–99 season, the Rockets went 31–19, but lost to the Lakers in the first round 3–1 of the playoffs.[80] After the 1999 draft, the Rockets traded for the second overall pick Steve Francis from the Vancouver Grizzlies, in exchange for four players and a first-round draft pick.[81] However, after Houston traded a discontented Pippen to Portland,[82] and Barkley suffered a career-ending injury,[83] the rebuilt Rockets went 34–48 and missed the playoffs,[84] for only the second time in 15 years.[4]

In the 2000–01 season, the Rockets worked their way to a 45–37 record. However, in a competitive Western Conference where seven teams won 50 games, this left the Rockets two games out of the playoffs.[85] In the following offseason, a 38-year old Olajuwon requested a trade, and, despite stating their desire to keep him, the Rockets reached a sign-and-trade agreement, sending him to the Toronto Raptors.[86] The ensuing 2001–02 season—the first without Hakeem in two decades—was unremarkable, and the Rockets finished a disappointing 28–54.[87]

2002–2009: The Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady era

File:Yao Ming free throw.jpg
Yao Ming during his rookie season with the Rockets.

However, after Houston was awarded the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, they selected Yao Ming, a 7-foot 6 inch Chinese center.[88] The Rockets' record improved by 15 games,[89] but they missed the playoffs by one game.[90]

In the 2003-04 season, Houston began playing in their new arena, the Toyota Center,[91] and redesigned their uniforms and logo.[92] Before the season, Rudy Tomjanovich resigned as head coach after being diagnosed with bladder cancer, ending a 33-year association with the franchise—including its first 32 years in Houston.[93] Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy succeeded him.[94] The Rockets finished the regular season with a record of 45–37,[95] and earned their first playoff berth since 1999,[4] but the Lakers again handed the Rockets a loss in the first round.[95] In the offseason, Houston saw major changes in the roster as the Rockets acquired Tracy McGrady in a seven-player deal with the Orlando Magic.[96] The 2004–05 season saw McGrady and Yao lead the Rockets to their best record in ten years,[4] finishing at 51–31 and seeded 5th in the Western Conference Playoffs. However, their season ended in the first round of the playoffs as they lost to their in-state rival, the Dallas Mavericks, in seven games,[97] despite leading the series 2–0.[98]

Try-plagued year in which McGrady and Yao missed a total of 70 games, the team finished with only 34 wins, and missed the playoffs.[99] The Rockets improved by 18 games the next year, with 52 wins,[100] but once again lost in the first round after leading 2–0, when they lost in seven games to Utah.[101] After the loss, Van Gundy was fired,[102] and the Rockets hired Rick Adelman to replace him.[103] In the 2007–08 NBA season, despite Yao suffering a season-ending injury for the second time in three years,[104] the Rockets won 22 consecutive games, which was at the time the 3rd longest winning streak in NBA history.[105] Houston finished their season 55–27,[106] but were eliminated for the second year in row by the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, 4 games to 2. In 2008–2009 the Rockets ended the season 53–29, reaching the number 5 spot. With McGrady out with season-ending surgery the Rockets were still able to get out of the first round, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 4 games to 2. The series win was their first since 1997. During the series, Dikembe Mutombo injured his knee, which forced him to retire after 18 seasons in the NBA. [107] However Yao Ming suffered yet another season-ending injury, this time a hairline fracture in his left foot during Game 3 of their second round series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets lost the series 4–3.

2009–2012: "Competitive Rebuilding"

During the 2009 offseason, the Rockets signed forward Trevor Ariza, who had just won the 2009 championship with the Lakers, using the Disabled Player Exception they were granted by the league after an injury to Yao Ming,[108] and unveiled new alternate uniforms, which were inspired by the 1994–95 championship uniforms and featured similar colors.

On February 18, 2010, hours before the trade deadline, the Rockets acquired Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, Hilton Armstrong, and Jared Jeffries in a three-team trade that sent Tracy McGrady to the New York Knicks, and Joey Dorsey and Carl Landry to the Sacramento Kings.[109] Despite the stellar play of Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks before the McGrady trade and the arrival of Martin, the Rockets could not make it to the playoffs, finishing 42–40, 3rd in the Southwest Division. At that time, the Rockets set an NBA record for best record by a team with no All-Stars.[110] On April 22, Aaron Brooks was named the NBA Most Improved Player, beating Kevin Durant and George Hill, who both came in second place. The Rockets drafted Patrick Patterson of Kentucky with the 14th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. On July 15, the Rockets signed free agent Brad Miller. About one month later, Trevor Ariza was traded to the New Orleans Hornets in a four-team, five-player trade.[111] The Rockets received Courtney Lee from the New Jersey Nets in return.

The 2010-11 NBA season started badly for the Rockets, who lost the first five games,[112] and during the seventh, seeing Yao Ming injure his leg during the first quarter.[113] By December, Yao was examined and discovered a stress fracture which kept him off of the court for another season despite only five games played that far.[114] By the All-Star break in February 2011, the Rockets were 26-31. Afterwards the team won 15 games out of 20, reaching a winning record and contending for a playoff spot. Back-to-back defeats to the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans in April eliminated the Rockets with three games remaining, marking the second straight season out of the playoffs.[112] The team still finished with a 43-39 record, enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference but only ninth in the competitive West.[115] Head coach Rick Adelman left the Rockets right after the season,[116] and Kevin McHale was named his replacement.[117] During the offseason, in July, Yao Ming announced its retirement at the early age of 30, due to a series of unfortunate injuries to his foot and ankle cut his career short.[118]

On the 2011 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets selected Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons. During an offseason extended by the 2011 NBA lockout, the Rockets' front office started to plan a roster overhaul,[119] The strike-shortened 2011–12 season had the Rockets were eliminated from playoff contention during the season's penultimate game against eventual champions Miami Heat.[120]

File:James Harden Rockets cropped.jpg
James Harden arrived in Houston in 2012, and has since become a franchise player for the Rockets.

2012–present: Resurgence and Division Champions

During the 2012 NBA offseason, the Rockets made significant changes to their roster. The team arrived at the 2012 NBA Draft with three first round picks, which they used to recruit Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones.[121] A trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder landed Houston reigning sixth man of the year James Harden, along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward.[122] The team also signed restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Ömer Aşık,[123][124] and had 2011 pick Donatas Motiejūnas arrive from Lithuania.[125] Departures included Kyle Lowry in a trade,[126] Goran Dragić through free agency,[127] and Luis Scola using their one-time amnesty clause.[128] Only four players were left from the 2011–12 roster: Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson.[129] During the season Morris was traded for a draft pick and Patterson for Thomas Robinson.[130][131]

Harden stepped out of his previous sixth man role and into the starting lineup for the Rockets. During the season opener against the Detroit Pistons, Harden had 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and a block in his debut as a Rocket,[132] and finished the season with an average of 25.9 points a game.[133] Harden was selected to the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, which was held in Houston.[134] Despite being the youngest team in the NBA, the Rockets became one of the highest scoring offenses in the NBA.[135] Head coach Kevin McHale ran an up-tempo offense that put emphasis on transition baskets, shooting three-pointers, and playing at a fast pace. As a result, the Rockets became one of the highest scoring offenses in the NBA, leading the league in scoring for the majority of the season.[136] In the post-season, the Rockets fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, losing the series 4-2.[137]

Eager to add another franchise player to their team, the Rockets heavily pursued free agent center Dwight Howard in the 2013 offseason. He officially signed with the Rockets on July 13, 2013.[138] Led by the new inside-out combination of Howard and James Harden, and with a strong supporting cast including Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Ömer Aşık, the Rockets were expected to jump into title contention in the upcoming season.[139] However, in the post-season, the Rockets were defeated in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers, losing the series 4-2.[140]

During the offseason, the Rockets traded Jeremy Lin to the Lakers,[141] declined to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons received from the Dallas Mavericks,[142] and signed Trevor Ariza for a second stint in Houston.[143]

The Rockets had an outstanding start for the 2014–15 NBA season, winning the first four games of the season for the first time since the 1996–97 season,[144] and beating each of their first six games by 10 points or more, the first team to accomplish this feat since the 1985–86 Denver Nuggets.[145] In December, the Rockets acquired Corey Brewer[146] and Josh Smith,[147] two veterans who added depth to the roster. While the Rockets had many key players miss time throughout the entire season, James Harden took it upon himself to keep the Rockets near the top of the conference; turning him into an MVP front-runner. He managed to become the first Rocket to score 50 points since Hakeem Olajuwon,[148] as well as the only player in franchise history to record multiple 50 point games in a season.[149] On April 15, 2015, the Rockets beat the Jazz to claim their first ever Southwest Division title and first Division crown since 1994, and by completing 56 wins finished with the third-best regular season record in franchise history.[150] During the playoffs, the Rockets beat the Mavericks 4-1 in the first round, and overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers to win the Western Semifinals and return to the Conference Finals for the first time in 18 years, this time against the Golden State Warriors,[151] who defeated the Rockets, 4-1.

Season-by-season records

Home arenas

The Summit (later Compaq Center) hosted the Rockets from 1975 to 2003, and was also the site where the Rockets won both of their NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. Today the site is now Lakewood Church.
Toyota Center is the current home of the Houston Rockets.

During the four years the Rockets were in San Diego, they played their games in the San Diego Sports Arena,[3] which had a seating capacity of 14,400.[152] In their first season after moving to Houston, the Rockets did not have their own arena, and they played their first two years at various venues in the city, including the Astrodome, AstroHall, Sam Houston Coliseum and Hofheinz Pavilion, the latter eventually being adopted as their home arena until 1975. They also had to play "home" games in other cities such as San Antonio, Waco, Albuquerque, and even San Diego in efforts to extend the fan-base. During their first season, the Rockets averaged less than 5,000 fans per game (roughly half full), and in one game in Waco, there were only 759 fans in attendance.[3]

Their first permanent arena in Houston was the 10,000 seat Hofheinz Pavilion on the campus of the University of Houston, which they moved into starting in their second season. They played in the arena for four years, before occupying The Summit in 1975. The arena, which could hold 16,611 spectators,[153] was their home for the next 28 years. It was renamed the Compaq Center from 1998–2003.[3] For the 2003–04 season, the Rockets moved into their new arena, the Toyota Center, with a seating capacity of 18,500.[91] In the past fifteen years, the Rockets' attendance was at the lowest in 2002, when their attendance per game was only 11,737, second worst in the league.[154] However, the Rockets averaged 17,379 spectators in 2008, their best average attendance to date, which was the season of the famous 22-game winning streak.[155]

Team identity

Uniforms and logos

When the Rockets debuted in San Diego, their colors were green and gold. Road uniforms featured the city name, while the home uniforms feature the team name, both in a serifed block lettering. This was the only uniform design the Rockets would use throughout their years in San Diego. The Rockets' first logo is of a rocket streaking with a basketball and the team name surrounding it.[6]

Upon moving to Houston in 1971, the Rockets replaced green with red. They kept the same design from their San Diego days, save for the change of color and city name. The logo used is of a player with a spinning basketball launching upward, with boosters on his back, leaving a trail of red and gold flames and the words "Houston Rockets" below it.

For the 1972–73 season, the Rockets introduced the famous "mustard and ketchup" logo, so dubbed by fans, featuring a gold basketball surrounded by two red trails, with "Houston" atop the first red trail and "Rockets" (all capitalized save for the lowercase 'E' and 'T') in black surrounding the basketball. The initial home uniforms, used until the 1975–76 season, features the city name, numbers and serifed player name in red with gold trim, while the away uniforms feature the city name (all capitalized except for the lower case 'T' and 'N'), numbers and serifed player name in gold with white trim.

In the 1976–77 season, the Rockets modified their uniforms, featuring a monotone look on the fonts and white lettering on the road uniforms. Also worth noting is the use of the font Cooper Black on the player's names. On the home shorts, the team logo is located on the right leg, while the away shorts feature the team name wordmark on the same location. With minor modifications in the number font, this version was used in all four of their NBA Finals appearances, including their 1994 and 1995 championships.

Following their 1995 championship triumph, the Rockets opted to modernize their look, in keeping with the cartoon-inspired imagery that other teams adopted during the 1990s. The logo is of a rocket painted with a sharkmouth nose art orbiting a basketball, with the word "Rockets" in a more LCD-inspired livery. Red was retained, but navy blue and silver became the uniform's primary colors. Both the home white and away navy uniforms featured gradient-fading pinstripes and futuristic number fonts, with side stripes of navy fading to red. This was used until the 2002–03 season.

The Rockets' current logos and uniforms were introduced in the 2003–04 season, created by New York-based agency Alfafa Studio in association with Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka. The logo is an stylized 'R' in the shape of a rocket during takeoff, surrounded by a red orbit streak that can be interpreted as the central circle of a basketball court. Said "R" inspired the team's new custom typeface, designed so that every single digit could be read well from a distance, whether in the arena or on television. Red went back into being the dominant color, with silver and black as secondary.[156][157] In 2009, the Rockets went back to their championship years by unveiling an alternate red uniform, featuring gold numbers and side stripes.[158]


The mascot of the Houston Rockets in the 1980s was called Booster. From 1993 to 1995, the mascot was Turbo, a costumed man that performed acrobatic dunks and other maneuvers.[159] In 1995, the Rockets debuted Clutch the Bear as a second mascot, a large teddy bear-like mascot that performs a variety of acts during the games. After eight years of serving as dual mascots, the performer playing Turbo retired, making Clutch the sole mascot for the team.[160]


The Rockets have developed many rivalries within the Western Conference ever since the team returned there in 1980. Two are interstate rivalries, with the San Antonio Spurs, who moved along with the Rockets after four years with them in the Eastern Conference, and the Dallas Mavericks, introduced that very season. Houston faced both Texas teams thrice, beating the Spurs on all occasions and losing twice to the Mavericks. Other famed rivalries were with the Los Angeles Lakers, that in the 1980s Showtime era only missed the NBA Finals when beaten by the Rockets, and the Utah Jazz, who the Rockets beat on both championship seasons but were defeated by Utah in five other occasions.

Honors and statistics

Individual honors

All-NBA Second Team

All-NBA Third Team

NBA All-Defensive First Team

NBA All-Defensive Second Team


Statistics and records

Franchise leaders

Bold denotes still active with team. Italics denotes still active but not with team.

Points scored (regular season) (as of the end of the 2014–15 season)[189]

Other Statistics (regular season) (as of the end of the 2014–15 season)[189]

Minutes Played

  1. Hakeem Olajuwon (42,844)
  2. Calvin Murphy (30,607)
  3. Rudy Tomjanovich (25,714)
  4. Robert Reid (21,718)
  5. Elvin Hayes (20,782)


  1. Hakeem Olajuwon (13,382)
  2. Elvin Hayes (6,974)
  3. Moses Malone (6,959)
  4. Rudy Tomjanovich (6,198)
  5. Otis Thorpe (5,010)


  1. Calvin Murphy (4,402)
  2. Allen Leavell (3,339)
  3. Hakeem Olajuwon (2,992)
  4. Mike Newlin (2,581)
  5. Kenny Smith (2,457)


  1. Hakeem Olajuwon (2,088)
  2. Calvin Murphy (1,165)
  3. Allen Leavell (929)
  4. Robert Reid (881)
  5. Steve Francis (619)


  1. Hakeem Olajuwon (3,740)
  2. Yao Ming (920)
  3. Moses Malone (758)
  4. Ralph Sampson (585)
  5. Kelvin Cato (431)


Current roster

For the complete list of Houston Rockets players see: Houston Rockets all-time roster
For the players drafted by Houston Rockets, see: List of Houston Rockets first and second round draft picks.
Houston Rockets roster
Players Coaches
Pos. # Name Height Weight DOB (YYYY–MM–DD) From
G/F 1 Ariza, Trevor 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) 215 lb (98 kg) 1985–06–30 UCLA
G 2 Beverley, Patrick Injured (FA) 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 210 lb (95 kg) 1988–07–12 Arkansas
G/F 33 Brewer, Corey 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 186 lb (84 kg) 1986–03–05 Florida
F/C 15 Capela, Clint 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) 240 lb (109 kg) 1994–05–18 INSEP (FRA)
F/C 8 Dorsey, Joey 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 275 lb (125 kg) 1983–12–16 Memphis
G 13 Harden, James (C) 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 225 lb (102 kg) 1989–08–26 Arizona State
C 12 Howard, Dwight 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 275 lb (125 kg) 1985–12–08 SW Atlanta Academy (GA)
G 3 Johnson, Nick 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 200 lb (91 kg) 1992–12–22 Arizona
F 6 Jones, Terrence 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 252 lb (114 kg) 1992–01–09 Kentucky
G/F 32 McDaniels, K. J. (FA) 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 200 lb (91 kg) 1993–02–09 Clemson
F/C 20 Motiejūnas, Donatas Injured 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m) 255 lb (116 kg) 1990–09–20 Lithuania
F 16 Papanikolaou, Kostas 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) 235 lb (107 kg) 1990–07–31 Greece
G 9 Prigioni, Pablo 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 185 lb (84 kg) 1977–05–17 Argentina
F 5 Smith, Josh (FA) 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 225 lb (102 kg) 1985–12–05 Oak Hill Academy (VA)
G 31 Terry, Jason (FA) 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 185 lb (84 kg) 1977–09–15 Arizona
Head coach
Assistant coach(es)
Athletic trainer(s)
  • Jason Biles
  • Keith Jones
Strength and conditioning coach(es)
  • Joe Rogowski

  • (C) Team captain
  • (DP) Unsigned draft pick
  • (FA) Free agent
  • (S) Suspended
  • (DL) On assignment to D-League affiliate
  • Injured Injured

Last transaction: 2015–03–27

Retained draft rights

The Rockets hold the draft rights to the following unsigned draft picks who have been playing outside the NBA. A drafted player, either an international draftee or a college draftee who isn't signed by the team that drafted him, is allowed to sign with any non-NBA teams. In this case, the team retains the player's draft rights in the NBA until one year after the player's contract with the non-NBA team ends.[190] This list includes draft rights that were acquired from trades with other teams.

Draft Round Pick Player Pos. Nationality Current team Note(s) Ref
2014 2 53 Gentile, AlessandroAlessandro Gentile G/F 23x15px Italy EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy) Acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves [191]
2013 2 45 Todorović, MarkoMarko Todorović F/C 23x15px Montenegro Bilbao Basket (Spain) Acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers [192]
2011 2 51 Diebler, JonJon Diebler G 23x15px United States Pınar Karşıyaka (Turkey) Acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers [193]
2009 2 34 Llull, SergioSergio Llull G 23x15px Spain Real Madrid (Spain) Acquired from the Denver Nuggets [194]
2008 2 54 Leunen, MaartyMaarty Leunen F 23x15px United States Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany) [195]
2007 2 54 Newley, BradBrad Newley G/F 23x15px Australia Herbalife Gran Canaria (Spain) [196]
2005 2 52 Hervelle, AxelAxel Hervelle F 23x15px Belgium Bilbao Basket (Spain) Acquired from the Denver Nuggets [197]

Notable former players

Retired numbers

Houston Rockets retired numbers
Player Position Tenure
22 Clyde Drexler G 1995–98 [198]
23 Calvin Murphy G 1970–83 [199]
24 Moses Malone C 1976–82 [200]
34 Hakeem Olajuwon C 1984–2001 [201]
45 Rudy Tomjanovich F 1970–81 1 [199]
CD 2 Carroll Dawson Assistant Coach,
General Manager
  • 1 Also served as head coach from 1991 to 2003.
  • 2 As Dawson did not play for the Rockets, the team used his initials.[202]

Unassigned numbers

  • 11 - Yao Ming, C, 2002–11 (The number has not been issued since Yao announced his retirement on July 20, 2011 and will "probably" be retired, according to owner Leslie Alexander[203]).

Hall of Famers

Houston Rockets Hall of Famers
Player Elected
Rick Barry 1987 [204]
Elvin Hayes 1990 [205]
Calvin Murphy 1993 [206]
Moses Malone 2001 [207]
Clyde Drexler 2004 [208]
Charles Barkley 2006 [209]
Hakeem Olajuwon 2008 [210]
Scottie Pippen 2010
Ralph Sampson 2012
Dikembe Mutombo 2015


General Managers



# Name Term[b] Regular Season Playoffs Achievements
GC W L Win% GC W L Win%
San Diego Rockets
1 Jack McMahon[219] 19681970 190 61 129 .321 6 2 4 .333
2 Alex Hannum[21] 1970–1971 138 58 80 .420
Houston Rockets
3 Tex Winter[22] 19711973 129 51 78 .395
4 Johnny Egan[220] 19731976 281 129 152 .459 8 3 5 .375
5 Tom Nissalke[165] 19761979 246 124 122 .504 14 6 8 .429 1976–77 NBA Coach of the Year[221]
6 Del Harris[222] 19791983 328 141 187 .430 31 15 16 .484 1981 NBA Finals berth with 40-42 record
7 Bill Fitch[223] 19831988 410 216 194 .527 39 21 18 .538 One of the top 10 coaches in NBA history[224]
8 Don Chaney[166] 19881992 298 164 134 .550 11 2 9 .182 1990–91 NBA Coach of the Year[221]
9 Rudy Tomjanovich[225] 19922003 900 503 397 .559 90 51 39 .567 2 NBA championships (1994, 1995)
10 Jeff Van Gundy[226] 20032007 328 182 146 .555 19 7 12 .368
11 Rick Adelman[227] 20072011 328 193 135 .588 19 9 10 .474 3rd longest winning streak in NBA history
12 Kevin McHale[228] 2011 312 189 123 .606 29 13 16 .448


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