The Top 10 Houston Rockets of All Time

Two of the ten greatest Rockets in team history.
Two of the ten greatest Rockets in team history.
Getty Images/Houston Rockets

For the first time in the James Harden Era, the Rockets enter the NBA's regular season with muted expectations, with fan enthusiasm most certainly tempered following an offseason that saw the departure of Dwight Howard, the hiring of new head coach Mike D'Antoni, and some noticeable tweaks to the roster (Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon) that should, at the very least, make the team more fun to watch.

Whether it makes the team more successful than 2015-16's 41-41 outfit remains to be seen. There will be plenty of time between now and the beginning of the regular season in a month or so to analyze this team's prospects.

For now, the only real interaction that the media and fans have had with this team came at Media Day last week. It was your normal, run of the mill Media Day, with press conferences galore. Most of the quotes from the principals involved were your standard, throwaway stuff, but there was this gem from owner Leslie Alexander about Harden that got the attention of many:

"It shows that James wants to win very badly," Alexander said. "He's a winning player ... James is one of the top three or four players we've ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else."

"Wow, top three or four Rockets ever? Really??" thought many folks. Well, yeah, really. 

Understandably, Houston has a great affinity for anybody associated with the two title teams back in the mid-90's. Also, Yao Ming and, to a lesser extent, Tracy McGrady own a sympathetic corner in the hearts of many Rocket fans, considering the injuries both dealt with in their time as active players here. 

James Harden?

Well, let's just say many are still bitter over a) Harden's showing up out of shape last October, and b) how last season ended, 41-41 and a five game whimper against the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. Despite becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to average 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in a season, Harden was still in the doghouse of most Rocket fans. following the season

So when the owner shot Harden into the express lane past all of these guys with rings, Rocket Fan was understandably perplexed. Let's examine this — where does James Harden rank among all-time Rockets?

Below I've ranked the top ten all-time Rockets in a purely subjective manner. These are my rankings and my rankings only. Here were my rules:

1. The rankings are based solely on a player's ROCKET portion of his career. So Charles Barkley doesn't crack the top ten, even though he had one of the four or five greatest overall careers of anyone to don a Rockets uniform. 

2. This list is based solely on a person's career as a Rockets PLAYER. So Rudy Tomjanovich's coaching career doesn't bump him up near the top of the list... nor does Clyde Drexler's career as an announcer move him out of the top ten entirely. (I kid, I kid!! It's a joke, Clyde!!)

So, without further ado, let's do this......

HONORABLE MENTION....

Mike Newlin
Robert Reid
Vernon Maxwell
Robert Horry
Mario Elie
Sam Cassell
Kenny Smith
Charles Barkley
Steve Francis

LAST ONE OUT.....

OTIS THORPE, 1988-1995 (7 seasons)
ALL STAR APPEARANCES:
1
AWARDS: None
HALL OF FAME: No (0.6 percent)
STATS: 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds (per game)
WIN SHARES: 54.5
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  1994 NBA champions
COMMENTS: O.T. gets bonus points for being the second best player on the Rockets' first title team, and for being one of the most consistent,  blue collar guys in the league at the time. The tie breaker between him and the back end of the top ten was this simple fact — he only had one All-Star season, while the first few guys in the back end of this Top 10 all made at least four NBA All-Star teams. 

10. RUDY TOMJANOVICH, 1970-1981 (11 seasons)

ALL STAR APPEARANCES: 5
AWARDS: None
HALL OF FAME: Possibly as a coach (29.8 percent)
STATS: 17.4 points, 8.1 rebounds (per game)
WIN SHARES: 70.4
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 1981 NBA Finals
COMMENTS: Obviously, if this were a list for greatest Rockets EMPLOYEES of all time, Rudy might be No. 1, considering his success as a player, scout, and coach. While it is a list for playing career only, Rudy T's career was quietly pretty impressive, with four All-Star appearances before the infamous punch from Kermit Washington that nearly killed (like, literally he almost died) Tomjanovich. If he were in today's game, Rudy would've made the perfect San Antonio Spur, knocking down all sorts of mid range jumpers. 

9. ELVIN HAYES, 1968-1972, 1981-84 (7 seasons)

ALL STAR APPEARANCES: 4
AWARDS: All-Rookie 1st team (1969)
HALL OF FAME: Yes
STATS: 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds (per game)
WIN SHARES: 40.8
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Not much of substance in the "Big E" years
COMMENTS: The "Big E" burst upon the scene back in the San Diego days of the franchise, leading the NBA in scoring and minutes played as a rookie in 1968-69. Unfortunately, for Rocket fans, most of Hayes' high level damage as a player — MVP consideration, postseason success — occurred outside of his San Diego/Houston years. A three season swan song here at the end of his career was more cathartic than anything else, but did yield that fantastic Yellow Cab ad above.

8. RALPH SAMPSON, 1983-1987 (5 seasons)

ALL STAR APPEARANCES: 4
AWARDS: All-Rookie 1st team (1983)
HALL OF FAME: Yes
STATS: 20.2 points, 10.8 rebounds (per game)
WIN SHARES: 20.1
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 1986 NBA Finals
COMMENTS: Once believed to be a revolutionary talent — WOW! A seven footer who can dribble! — and a guy who was a very good player his first four years in the league, Ralph Sampson was the next in the line of "what if" big men. Moses Malone was the first ("What if Moses stayed after 1982?"), and Yao Ming came after Ralph ("What if Yao's feet weren't made of Play-Doh?"). Ralph's knees began to give away shortly after he and Dream led the Rockets to an unexpected NBA Finals in 1986. It would have been fascinating to see how Olajuwon's career would have progressed if Sampson had stayed healthy, if Dream would've become the transcendent star he became, and stylistically how the two would have meshed as they aged. Still, Sampson's body of work in his short time as a Rocket is good enough for eighth on this list. 

7. CALVIN MURPHY, 1970-1983 (13 seasons)

ALL STAR APPEARANCES: One
AWARDS: All-Rookie 1st team (1971)
HALL OF FAME: Yes
STATS: 17.9 points, 4.4 assists (per game), 89.2 percent free throw percentage.
WIN SHARES: 84.1
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 1981 NBA Finals
COMMENTS: One of the greatest little men to ever play the game, Murphy was a career Rocket who managed to make the Hall of Fame as a player, despite appearing in just one All-Star Game. Murphy's claim to fame was his deadeye marksmanship as a free throw shooter, knocking down nearly 90 percent of his shots from the charity stripe for his career. Also, he will fight you... also, he spins a mean baton

6. TRACY McGRADY, 2004-2010 (6 seasons)

ALL STAR APPEARANCES: 3
AWARDS: All-NBA 2nd team (2), 3rd team (2)
HALL OF FAME: Likely (95.5 percent)
STATS: 22.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists (per game)
WIN SHARES: 33.2
TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: In four healthiest seasons, team averaged 53 wins per season
COMMENTS: It would have been very interesting to see where a fully healthy McGrady (a unicorn, if there ever was one) would have been able to accomplish with Yao Ming. Coming to Houston off of two scoring titles in Orlando, McGrady was still a productive player here, when healthy. The problems were 1) he played more than 66 games just twice in six seasons, 2) he never was healthy for a playoff series win, 3) he went and got microfracture surgery without telling the team in 2009, 4) he got worse every year, and 5) he routinely sulked. Other than those little peccadilloes, he was amazing. (He actually was, I'm not just saying that.)



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