Sean Pendergast

Rating Former Franchise Icons Acquired By Houston Rockets Since 1995

Rating the Westbrook trade in a historical context.
Rating the Westbrook trade in a historical context. Photo by Erik Dorst via Flickr
As the NBA offseason simmers down, and the MLB trade deadline approaches, we are reminded that we are very fortunate here in the city of Houston to be rooting for teams that are on the FUN end of the trades where a superstar player is changing teams and the team sending out the superstar is getting spare parts that total about 40 cents on the dollar.

Since 2017 alone, the Astros have made four trades for prominent pitching pieces — Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Ryan Pressly, and Roberto Osuna — for a collective dozen or so spare parts that are anonymous enough to where Astros fans are losing zero sleep over the price tags on those deals. Hell, the Texans snagged Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos at the trade deadline last year, and are ensured through the mere presence of Deshaun Watson to never be on the "acquiring draft picks and spare parts" end of trades like these.

Then there are the Rockets, who have been the gold standard for swinging for the fences for a couple decades now in this town. The Russell Westbrook trade was officially completed on Tuesday night, and we got the requisite welcome tweets for Russ from the team, and the good bye tweets from the Thunder to Russ. The one that was most interesting contained this particular comment from Thunder GM Sam Presti:

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER. That's the part that gets you, if you're a Thunder fan. The No. 1 icon in the history of your franchise will be suiting up for another team next season, and not just ANY other team, but the team that also pilfered James Harden back in October 2012.

As I mentioned earlier, the Rockets have made a habit of trading for other teams' marquee, historical icons over the last two decades. The question is "Is Russell Westbrook the most beloved player in his previous market of any of the superstar Rocket players acquired in that timeframe?" Let's go back and take a look at all the deals, and see where each player acquired ranked on the "Most Important" scale for their previous employer at the time the Rockets dealt for them:

CLYDE DREXLER, Portland 1995
February 14, 1995: Traded by the Portland Trail Blazers with Tracy Murray to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola and a 1995 1st round draft pick (Randolph Childress was later selected).
ICON SCORE: 2nd MIP (Bill Walton)
In the early 90's, Drexler had ascended to the clear cut second best shooting guard in basketball behind Michael Jordan, and took the Blazers to two NBA Finals (1990, 1992). Only Bill Walton, the best player on the Blazers' 1977 championship team, was a bigger Blazer icon at the time of the Valentine's Day trade of Drexler to his hometown.

THE TRADE: August 19, 1996: Traded by the Phoenix Suns with a 1999 2nd round draft pick (Tyrone Washington was later selected) to the Houston Rockets for Chucky Brown, Mark Bryant, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry.
ICON SCORE: 3rd MIP (Paul Westphal, Walter Davis)
Barkley was only with the Suns for four seasons, but in that time, he took them to an NBA Finals and won an MVP Award. Only Paul Westphal (a four time All Star for the Suns in the late '70s, and head coach of the 1993 Finals team) and Walter Davis (six time All Star) were more important to Suns' history in 1996 than Barkley.

SCOTTIE PIPPEN, Chicago 1998
THE TRADE: January 22, 1999: Traded by the Chicago Bulls to the Houston Rockets for Roy Rogers and a 2000 2nd round draft pick (Jake Voskuhl was later selected).
ICON SCORE: 2nd MIP (Michael Jordan)
When you're a top 50 player of all time and the second best player on all six title teams in a franchise's history, that's good enough for second behind Michael Jordan.

TRACY McGRADY, Orlando 2004
THE TRADE: June 29, 2004: Traded by the Orlando Magic with Reece Gaines, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue to the Houston Rockets for Kelvin Cato, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley.
ICON SCORE: 3rd MIP (Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway)
Orlando was still  fairly young franchise when McGrady was dealt to the Rockets after winning a couple scoring titles in Orlando. Only Shaq and Penny, the two best players on the Magic's run to the Finals in 1995 meant more to the Magic up until McGrady was dealt. (McGrady is probably still fourth all time, with Dwight Howard surpassing him from 2004-2012.)

RON ARTEST, Sacramento 2008
THE TRADE: August 14, 2008: Traded by the Sacramento Kings with Patrick Ewing and Sean Singletary to the Houston Rockets for Donté Greene, Bobby Jackson and a 2009 1st round draft pick (Omri Casspi was later selected).
I'm adding Artest to this list only because he was a big enough acquisition to warrant a welcome party with the fans. As for where he ranks on the "icon list" for the Kings, it wasn't really worth the time of going through an excruciating autopsy of Kings' history through 2008.

JAMES HARDEN, Oklahoma City 2012
THE TRADE: October 27, 2012: Traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, a 2013 1st round draft pick (Steven Adams was later selected), a 2013 2nd round draft pick (Álex Abrines was later selected) and a 2014 1st round draft pick (Mitch McGary was later selected).
ICON SCORE: 3rd MIP (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook)
When the Rockets acquired Harden, the Thunder were only four seasons into their existence, but they'd made an NBA Finals run and Harden was a clear cut core member of that team, behind only Durant and Westbrook.

THE TRANSACTION: July 13, 2013: Signed as a free agent with the Houston Rockets.
Howard was a major acquisition in 2013, but I doubt the Lakers were shedding many tears seeing him go. It hadn't gone well in that one season in LA for Dwight. As for where he ranks on Lakers icon lists, come on now.

CHRIS PAUL, LA Clippers 2017
THE TRADE: June 28, 2017: Traded by the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, $661k cash and a 2018 1st round draft pick (Omari Spellman was later selected).
Before Chris Paul got to the Clippers in 2011, the franchise had made the playoffs seven times in its history. It made the playoffs in all six of Paul's seasons. He gave one of the least credible franchises in sports history some semblance fo credibility.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City 2019
THE TRADE: July 16, 2019: Traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, a 2024 1st round pick, a 2026 1st round pick, and other draft considerations.
If Sam Presti says so, then I gotta believe that Russ was the most important Thunder player ever.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast