The Houston Rockets might be a lottery team now, but only a couple of seasons ago, the Rockets were a serious contender in the Western Conference. Led by James Harden, the Rockets generally finished in the top 3 of the West and ended up making deep playoff runs.
While Harden probably was their best player in the 2010s, it was centers who were the driving force for Houston in the past. It all started off with Elvin Hayes, who played in the early 1980s for the Rockets. Although Hayes faded away from the limelight after his first season, he certainly showed the franchise that keeping a superstar center on the team might be a great bet.
1985 was when the Rockets went all in on the centers' experiment as they kept Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon as the two most important players on the side. Known as the 'Twin Towers', Olajuwon and Sampson were one of the hardest pairs to score against. But the success was short-lived as Sampson became injury prone.
It was perhaps with Olajuwon the Rockets had the best time ever as he led the side to two championships in the early 90s, winning two Finals MVP trophies. While there was no replacing Olajuwon for some time, Houston got their other big man in a Chinese phenom, Yao Ming. Perhaps one of the most talented centers out there, Yao Ming dominated centers like Shaquille O'Neal and, in his day, was one of the top centers in the league.
The Rockets even paired him up with a superstar guard like Tracy McGrady in the early 2000s. While the two performed lights out in the regular season, it was in the playoffs where they would falter, and they never stayed fit. Ming's injury issues even led to early retirement as he stepped away from the game at 31 years old.
Last but not least, the Rockets tried to add an All-Star center alongside James Harden as they added Dwight Howard. Howard, who was coming off of a horrible stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, had already been to the Finals and was seen as one of the most desirable free agents. Signing Howard, the Rockets thought they had their next McGrady-Ming. To celebrate the big man's signing, Houston even had a special photoshoot with all the legendary centers standing beside each other.
While the picture turned out to be legendary, Howard's career in Rockets was more of a car crash. Given the lack of touches he had, the All-Star center looked like a shell of himself.
Now, the Rockets find themselves with a plethora of talented guards but do not have an up-and-coming young center in their ranks. As their past has shown, centers are key to Rockets' success, and getting hold of a talented young center might be their next target.