The Houston Rockets have a long-time habit of unearthing diamonds in the rough. It’s an organizational philosophy, and at times, it’s one that has paid dividends.
The Toyota Center is the NBA’s version of the Statue of Liberty: the Rockets will gladly take the wretched refuse of the teeming shores of the NBA’s fringes. The Houston Rockets stand in stark contrast to the neighboring Spurs. They don’t care if you’ve got a checkered past or a history of locker room drama: can you put a ball in a hoop?
If so, welcome aboard. It’s a genuinely humanistic philosophy. The Houston Rockets believe that people can change for the better. If they can’t, their first Rockets contract will probably be their last. It’s a means of acquiring talent on the margins. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The current roster reflects that strategy. The Cavaliers traded Kevin Porter Jr. for yesterday’s newspaper following a locker room fiasco. The Pistons declined to resign Christian Wood for reasons that have slowly become obvious to an increasing percentage of Rockets fans.
It’s not only “character” (as if that were some fixed property, and these people weren’t human beings) that the Rockets overlook. They’ll take on players with deficiencies if they see the potential for them to make them up elsewhere. Alperen Sengun fell anywhere from 5th to the second round in mocks leading up to the 2021 NBA draft. Teams loved his IQ and skill but feared his slow feet and throwback, low-post-oriented offense.
The Rockets, as usual, operated in the absence of fear.
Will these gambles pay off? Only time will tell. Here’s a look back at some risks that almost paid off: the operative word being “almost”.
The All-Time Houston Rockets Almost Team
Houston Rockets All-Time Almost C: Terrance Jones
The Rockets selected Jones with the 18th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. His transition from future star to G-League star was so quickly that you might have missed it if you’d blinked.
No character concerns surrounded Jones. His issue was on-court: he was the consummate tweener. Too slow for the four, and not big enough for the five, Jones was a stretch big in theory: and only in theory.
His best three-point shooting season came in 2014-15 when he canned 35.1% of his long-range attempts. That’s a respectable mark. Unfortunately, it’s the only respectable mark he’d hit in his career.
Without a reliable stroke from distance, Jones was lacking a signature skill. After four seasons in Houston, he’d bounce around the league for a few more years, finding his way back to the Rockets for 2 games in 2019.
He’s still active in the G-League, but at 30, it appears likely that his NBA career has peaked.
PF: Eddie Griffin
Eddie Griffin’s story is not like others here. It is tragic. Rest in peace to a brilliantly talented and unfortunately troubled man.
Prior to his untimely death, Griffin was selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets, who traded him to the Rockets on draft night.
I can only speak for myself, but I was beyond excited. Shades of Kevin Garnett colored Griffin’s game. He was a 6’10, 240-pound combo big with remarkable lateral mobility. He had defensive instincts, offensive footwork, and more.
Unfortunately, his ongoing battle with alcoholism caused the Rockets to release him just two seasons into his NBA career. The rest is unspeakably sad history.
This article was supposed to be fun, but it wouldn’t be historically accurate without Griffin. Forget the Houston Rockets: I hope his family has healed as much as possible.
SF: Kostas Papanikolaou
In hindsight, 2014-15 was a strange time for the Rockets. It felt like we were contending: we weren’t really contending. We just wouldn’t know what real contending felt like until 2017-18 (with the exception of our older fans).
Kostas Papanikolaou could be seen in a similar light. It felt like he might have star potential: we just didn’t know what real star potential felt like.
A crafty, heady 6’8 combo forward, he could do a little bit of everything. If you squinted hard enough, you could see the sort of playmaking wing who has come to dominate the league.
Once you stopped squinting, you were forced to deal with the truth. There was a reason Papanikolaou was selected by the Knicks with the 48th pick in the 2012 NBA draft, only to get dealt to the Blazers, only to get dealt to the Rockets. He wasn’t an NBA-level athlete.
While he was here, he threw some fun passes and converted some funky layups. He also averaged 4.2 points per game over his sole season with the Houston Rockets.
It was a career year.
SG: James Harden
Sometimes, we like to have a little fun here at the Chop Shop.
PG: Ty Lawson
In an earlier stage of Lawson’s career, the Rockets would have had to part with a king’s ransom to acquire him. Unfortunately, like Griffin, alcoholism plagued the talented floor general.
In his prime, he was one of the best point guards in the NBA as a member of the Denver Nuggets. In 2013-14, he averaged 17.6 points and 8.8 assists. He was heady, crafty, and most importantly, quicker than a debate on the internet gets toxic.
Unfortunately, his personal demons cost him prolonged success. The Nuggets had had enough of it by 2015, dealing him to the Rockets for, among other assets (including Papanikolaou) a 2016 first-round pick.
It sure felt like a good gamble. James Harden needed some relief in the backcourt, and Lawon was more than talented enough to provide it. He just wasn’t able to work through his personal issues.
Lawson has been playing overseas since 2018.