Houston Rockets: Worst Franchise in the NBA
Success is a complicated thing to define. It varies greatly depending on the setting and the perspective. In the NBA, success can be defined in dollar signs or in wins.
From the executive perspective, achieving one usually means the other will follow, making them equally important (unless of course, you opened a new wing to your casino right before the recession). But from the fan perspective, they aren't correlated. Fans only want their team to win, and every fan's ultimate goal is to win an NBA title.
If your team isn't competing for an NBA title, then in theory, they should be rebuilding, retooling, and finding ways to turn themselves into a competitor. One of the most common ways to do this is through the NBA draft. Common sense tells you that higher draft picks mean a better chance at landing a stud.
The worst teams every year have the best chance at a top-three pick, giving them first dibs at the new crop of talent coming in from college and overseas. This means that in a season where your team isn't competing for the playoffs, the best way to win later is to lose now. As fans of Golden State and Detroit will painfully tell you, this process is known as tanking.
Although the draft lottery attempts to discourage teams from tanking to improve their draft position, it is about as effective as discouraging a four-year-old from picking his nose. The benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
The worst place to be in the NBA is directly in the middle. The 17th best team in regular season record every year is in no-man's land. This team would be about 9th-11th in their conference, meaning they narrowly missed the playoffs, and will almost certainly be picking in the late lottery.
That's exactly where the Houston Rockets have found themselves over the last 12 years. Since the 2000-01 season, the Rockets have finished 9th in the West five times. They have found their way into the playoffs five times as well, but only reached as high as the fifth seed and garnered just one series win out of all those appearances.
The season in which they won the least games (the 2001-02 season), they were 25th in the NBA, giving them a decent chance to make the lottery.
They did just that. In the 2002 NBA Draft, the Rockets landed the Number One pick and chose Yao Ming. The pick jolted them up 10 places in the standings to 15th best in the NBA in the following season ... unfortunately placing them 9th in the West. They went on to make the playoffs five out of the next six years, but due to injuries and bad moves, they failed to build around Yao, won only a single playoff series, and ultimately secured their spot in the NBA no-man's land for the foreseeable future.
Will the Rockets continue to dwell in no man's land? James Harden is something to build around, but this current team has a long way to go if they want to turn into a title contender.
To go up, they must go down.