(PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Baptist/Getty Images.)
The Houston Rockets have had better days. Like the time the Rockets were known as Clutch City and won back-to-back titles in the mid-90s. The second title was interesting because they did a blockbuster deal that wasn’t exactly well-received.
Clyde Drexler was not a happy camper in Portland during the 1994-95 season. The team was at a decline after they failed to win in the NBA Finals twice (1990, 1992). And even though he had great stats at the time, Drexler looked over the hill (he was 32 at that point). Clyde The Glide, Blazer icon, requested a trade to a contender.
The defending champion Houston Rockets got off to an excellent 9-0 start but as the season wore on, they were clearly inferior to the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs. Their lack of a real second option hurt them; Hakeem Olajuwon basically had carried them all these years, especially the 1994 title year. At 30-17, they needed to do something.
This paved the way for a midseason deal:
1995 1st Round Pick (Randolph Childress)
Portland couldn’t get much more (although Thorpe was a very good player and once an all-star; Nicola never made it to the NBA and the pick was later traded to Detroit). At the time, the Rockets were 30-17 and the Blazers were 25-21.
Olajuwon was elated to have his old teammate from Phi Slama Jama (they both went to the University of Houston). But the other Rockets were not thrilled. Vernon Maxwell, in particular, was not pleased to have his role reduced. “Mad Max” was a distraction, which culminated to his leaving the team after the first game of the playoffs. The Rockets finished the season on a 17-18 freefall (47-35 overall) and the sixth-seeded team was not given much of a chance by analysts to repeat.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Bahr/Getty Images.)
Meanwhile, Portland (now led by Clifford Robinson and Rod Strickland) actually did better than Houston in the regular season after the trade. Thorpe did his part by averaging 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds off the bench. The Blazers finished 19-17 to end the season at 44-38. They were actually the seventh seed (right behind the Rockets) but their season ended early after they were waxed by the Suns in the first round. Thorpe would be traded to Detroit the following offseason (strangely enough, for the first round pick they had acquired from Houston and dealt a bit later, who turned out to be Randolph Childress).
As for Houston, they had an improbable run to the NBA championship as they miraculously suddenly put it all together. They upset the 60-win Jazz in Utah in the first round. Then they beat the Suns in Game 7 in Phoenix (which had the famous Mario Elie Kiss of Death). In the Conference Finals, Olajuwon schooled regular season MVP David Robinson as the Rockets eliminated the Spurs in six games. Then, finally, the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in stunning fashion to win their second straight NBA championship (which I’m sure you remember seeing in This Magic Moment documetary; if you haven’t seen it, watch it!).
Olajuwon was the undisputed best player at the time. Kenny Smith and Robert Horry hit the big shots. Mario Elie did everything necessary, even playing the small forward position. Sam Cassell was hot fire off the bench. And Clyde Drexler certainly did not look over the hill as the Rockets’ bonafide second option (20.5 points per game in the 1995 playoffs). And any fears of the Rockets not grabbing boards were assuaged by Clyde (who was an excellent rebounding guard); the Glide averaged 7.0 rebounds in those playoffs.
Portland moved on very quickly without Drexler while Houston was able to get three more good seasons out of Clyde. The acquisition of Charles Barkley helped them get to the Western Conference Finals in 1997. In Clyde’s final year, injuries by Olajuwon wrecked the 1997-98 campaign. They would go on to lose in the first round against the Jazz (who eliminated them in the WCF the previous year). Clyde would average 19.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.9 steals in three and a half years with the Rockets.
The deal netted another title and an extended championship window for the Rockets. The Blazers were able to get past Drexler and become title contenders on their own at the turn of the century without having to bottom out. Of course, Houston won this deal… but it’s not like the Blazers didn’t do so bad immediately after subtraction.
As for Clyde Drexler? At least, he got that elusive championship ring.
Follow Rey-Rey on Twitter at @TheNoLookPass for all tweets about the NBA and terrible pop music. Also, check out his podcast, Rey-Rey Is Fundamental.