Every summer, there is a lull in basketball news between free agency and the beginning of training camps throughout the league. In the dog days of the NBA summer, LWOS is bringing you the best five players to play for every NBA franchise in our Franchise Five series. The #LWOSFranchiseFive gives props to the best to ever lace up for each NBA team. Agree or disagree? Let us know at @LastWordHoops with the hash tag #LWOSFranchiseFive.
Southwest Division: Houston Rockets Franchise Five
Next up for our franchise five in the Southwest division are the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have had a storied history, with contending teams going back to the 1980’s. They haven’t been to the Finals since 1995, but have had many Hall of Fame players come through town before and after, which made choosing the best five players in franchise history more difficult than expected, but here they are:
Hakeem Olajuwon: The most obvious choice for this list and the best player to ever step on the court for the Rockets is Olajuwon. The Dream played 17 seasons in Houston and was a 12 time all-star as a Rocket and was the MVP in 1994. He led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships during Michael Jordan’s baseball hiatus, and led them to the Finals in 1986. Olajuwon is one of only four players to win the MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award in their career, and is one of the best two-way players in NBA history. He remains among the top ten NBA scorers of all time and is the NBA’s all time blocks leader (although Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell did not have their blocks recorded). In addition to being the greatest Rocket of all time, Olajuwon was a star player for the University of Houston, where he led the Cougars to three Final Fours. His number 34 is retired by both the Cougars and Rockets. He is the best player to have ever played for the Houston Rockets and belongs on any list of the greatest Houston athletes.
Moses Malone: The late great Moses Malone is someone who could give even Olajuwon a run for his money, but unfortunately did not play his entire career with the Rockets. Malone only played six seasons in Houston, but played for the Rockets in his prime, and was a two-time MVP as a Rocket. He was an all-star five times in Houston, and led the NBA in rebounding three times. Malone did not have the team success in Houston that he went on to have in Philadelphia, but did reach the NBA Finals once in Houston. Malone may have spent only six seasons with the Rockets, but his number 24 is retired by the team. He ranks in the top ten all time in scoring and rebounds, and is one of the greatest big men to ever play in the NBA.
Calvin Murphy: Murphy played guard for the Rockets for 13 seasons starting in 1970, and made the all-star team in 1979, a distinction which made him the shortest player to play in the NBA all-star game. Murphy is one of the best free throw shooters in NBA history, twice leading the NBA, and finishing his career with a 89.2 percentage from the line. Despite never leading the league in any major statistical categories, Murphy had solid career averages of 17.9 points and 4.4 assists per game for a player standing only 5’9” tall. Murphy five times averaged over 20 points per game and twice over 7 assists. His career in Houston saw him go to the NBA Finals in 1981 before retiring in 1983. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, and his number 23 is retired by the Rockets. Less well known that his MVP teammate Malone, Murphy was a great player who got his due with his Hall of Fame induction.
Yoa Ming: Yao, the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft that was a sensation coming out of China, played eight seasons in Houston. He missed the entire 2009-10 season due to injury, something that plagued him his entire career and eventually forced his retirement in 2011. Yao was an instant force when he joined the Rockets in 2002. Standing at 7’6” tall, he towered over the league and was an instant star. He was an all-star every season he played in the league, though some of that has to do with the backing of Chinese voters, but Yao was a legitimate all-star in his prime, and finished his career with averages of 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Yao had great touch for a man his size, and an ability to hit mid range shots over the top of his defenders. Although he had trouble with stronger players inside boxing him out, which hurt his rebounding numbers, he was more than capable of scoring 30 points on offense while being a disruptive force on defense. If not for injuries and a body that betrayed him, Yao could have experienced more of the team success he just missed out on with Tracy McGrady. His number 11, although not officially retired by the Rockets, has not been worn since his last game, and will likely be hung in the rafters soon. Yao is certainly headed for the Hall of Fame, and was a one of a kind NBA player and one of the best Rockets of all time.
Rudy Tomjanovich: Tomjanovich played 11 seasons as a Rocket and was a five time all-stat in the 70’s. He finished his career with averages of 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and still remains third on the Rockets all time scoring list behind Olajuwon and Murphy. He helped lead the team to the Finals in 1981, and his number 45 is retired by the club. What makes Tomjanovich one of the greatest Rockets is not only his stellar playing career, but his two championships as head coach of the Rockets in 1994 and 1995. Tomjanovich coached the Olajuwon led Rockets to back-to-back titles, and cemented his place among Houston legends.
Honourable mention: Tracy McGrady, Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, and Ralph Sampson