Fans of the Houston Rockets have to be sick of watching the playoffs. Before the playoffs began, there had to be a sickly feeling watching all of the old talents succeed with other teams. In the last two years, the Rockets have traded three superstar players and five “pretty good” players. All eight of those players qualified for the playoffs with their respective teams.
Is there a way to come back from this? The Rockets are going to be entrenched with rebuilding due to these moves. How bad has it been? Let us walk you through it.
Covington returned to the Rockets in a four-team, 12-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 5, 2020. Along with Jordan Bell, Covington was moved to the Rockets in exchange for Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, Evan Turner, and a 2020 first-round draft pick.
Covington’s best game came on February 29 in a 111-110 overtime win over the Celtics, where he recorded 16 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks. His ability to provide a 3-and-D presence was supposed to be first-round worthy, but instead, the Rockets bowed out of the playoffs early.
On November 22, 2020, Covington was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Trevor Ariza, draft rights to Isaiah Stewart, and a conditional future first-round pick. The trade looks poor given Houston’s lack of playoff success and the rise of Beasley as a 20-point scorer in Minnesota.
andTucker provided the Rockets with daily defense and a sure-fire three-point shot on the baseline for three and a half years. Teams struggled with Tucker, who was a very physical presence in the post. However, once the Rockets began to tear the roster apart, the team knew they could get value in return for him.
On March 19, 2021, Tucker was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Rodions Kurucs in exchange for D.J. Augustin and D.J. Wilson. The teams also exchanged draft picks.
Tucker has assumed the same role with the Bucks as a bruiser inside the post when Brook Lopez goes to the bench. He is currently in the second round of the playoffs battling the Brooklyn Nets and his former All-Star teammate James Harden.
On December 1, 2020, Cousins signed a one-year contract, and the next day the team acquired his good friend and former college teammate John Wall. The stint in Houston only lasted 25 games, where he started in 11. Cousins averaged 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in 20.2 minutes.
On February 23, the Rockets waived Cousins. On April 5, he signed a 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. Then, he signed another 10-day contract, which led to a fully guaranteed contract with the team for the rest of this season.
Cousins played in 16 games during the regular season for the Clippers and averaged 7.8 points per game. He did not appear once during the seven-game series, which the Clippers won, against the Dallas Mavericks. He has not played in a game since Mary 14.
On January 16, 2021, Oladipo was traded to the Rockets as part of a four-team deal that sent James Harden to the Nets. The Pacers acquired Caris LeVert from the Nets and a 2023 second-round pick. Oladipo shined in his Rockets debut by recording 32 points and nine assists in a loss to the Chicago Bulls.
However, the trade only lived up to the hype for a short period. Oladipo averaged 21 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in just 20 games. He was later traded to Miami Heat on March 25 in exchange for Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 draft pick swap. Oladipo played just four games for the Heat and never appeared in the playoffs for the team.
After the 2017-2018 season, Capela became a restricted free agent but signed a five-year, $90 million extension with the Rockets. Capela made a name for himself as a double-double machine. In March 2019, he had a career-best streak of 12 games with at least 10 rebounds.
On February 5, 2020, Capela and Nene were traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Robert Covington and Jordan Bell in part of the four-team, 12-player trade mentioned earlier. Capela didn’t make his Hawks debut until December 28, 2020. However, he eventually grew as a key contributor, even recording his first career triple-double of 13 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 blocks in a 116-98 win over the Timberwolves.
Capela is currently enjoying a second-round series with the Hawks against the No. 1 seed Philadelphia 76ers. Capela led the league in rebounding this past season with 14.3. When it’s all said and done, he could have a chance to play in a Conference Finals, which has to absolutely sting Rockets fans given that Covington is no longer with the team.
On July 8, 2018, Paul signed a four-year, $160 million max contract extension with the Rockets. Paul had recently helped the Rockets make the Conference Finals and were just one game away from making their first-ever NBA Finals. Instead, the Warriors closed out the team in seven games and won their second straight NBA championship.
After that, Paul was futile in leading the Rockets back to the Conference Finals. On July 16, 2019, the Rockets traded Paul, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, and 2021 and 2025 second-round pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Since then, Paul led the Thunder to the playoffs in an improbable run, including a seven-game series against his former team in the Rockets. This year, Paul (traded to the Suns in the 2020 offseason) just led the Suns to the No. 2 overall seed in the West and a first-round playoff series win over the defending NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers.
Westbrook was believed to be the piece to the puzzle of unlocking the Rocket’s potential of making the NBA Finals with James Harden. The two were teammates in OKC during their 2012 NBA Finals run. Instead, the two never seemed to fit well together in big games.
Despite missing the first four games of the first-round series of the 2020 NBA Playoffs against OKC, he helped Houston advance to the semifinals. However, the Rockets would be defeated 4-1 by the Lakers. In his eight playoff games, Westbrook averaged 17.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, making it the worst playoff series of his career statistically.
On December 2, 2020, there were rumors that Westbrook and Harden were unhappy and he wanted out. Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 lottery-protected first-round draft pick. Westbrook ultimately averaged the fourth triple-double season of his career, breaking Oscar Robertson’s career triple-double mark, and led the Wizards to a first-round playoff appearance.
Harden gave his heart to Houston. He won an MVP, the last three scoring titles, and helped the team make a run to the Conference Finals twice. In the end, he failed to make the NBA Finals and secure a championship. During the 2020 offseason, general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni left the Rockets and Harden demanded a trade-in in November 2020.
Harden showed up to training camp late but eventually started to play games again. Harden played just eight games, including his final game that prompted his former Rocket teammates to call him selfish. One day later, he was traded to the Nets in a four-team deal that involved the Cavaliers and Pacers, as well as star player Victor Oladipo. Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen.
Harden played like an MVP but faced injuries with his hamstring. Had he not been hurt and missed significant time, he likely would have been a serious contender for the MVP. Harden helped the Nets secure the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Now, he is facing potential time missed due to his hamstring issues but could return to help the Nets take down the Bucks in the semifinals.
From 2012 to 2020, the Rockets qualified for the playoffs with three first-round exits, four second-round exits, and two appearances in the Conference Finals. Despite never making the NBA Finals, the team gave the city of Houston plenty of great memories, and were a pretty competitive team.
Seeing all of this talent has to sting, but the future reclamation project has potential. The Rockets will have three first-round picks in the 2021 draft. The Atlanta Hawks were in a similar situation just a few years ago and have built around a budding superstar in Trae Young. Today, the Hawks compete in the semifinals with sights on making the Conference Finals. Someday, that could be Houston.