There’s no doubt the summer of 2011 shook the NBA landscape to its core. That’s when three of the game’s biggest superstars — the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Bosh — decided to join forces down in South Beach.
The super-team led by its big three went on to reach four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two, before splitting up. That Heat team’s first championship came against an Oklahoma City Thunder team led by a big three of their own. But, the Thunder’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden was a homegrown one — all three acquired through the draft.
It had to be discouraging for general managers league-wide to see a team built the quote-unquote “right way” lose to one built through an offseason coup. It certainly seems ever since that fateful 2012 NBA Finals the Houston Rockets and their GM Daryl Morey have been on a long, winding quest to be that next team to accumulate three established superstars.
Late in the 2012 offseason, the Rockets traded for Harden, and Morey — as he has consistently been able to do — surrounded “The Beard” with an effective bunch of role players. But, as good as Harden would turn out to be as the go-to guy, that was simply not enough to win in the NBA’s “The Decision” era.
In the 2013 offseason, the Rockets acquired a declining but still effective and coveted star to pair with Harden in Dwight Howard. The Rockets were among the top teams during the three seasons Harden and Howard teamed up, but still couldn’t reach that mountaintop.
At this time, all things being cyclical, a team with a homegrown big three, the Golden State Warriors, were beginning to take the NBA by storm. Of course, the Warriors would go on to even out-do the previous Heat dynasty, reaching five straight NBA Finals and winning three titles.
And, in the same 2016 offseason that saw Howard and the Rockets part ways, the homegrown Warriors team lured that free agency period’s biggest prize, Durant, away from the Thunder. In the 2017 offseason, the Rockets attempted to up the ante.
Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps the Rockets should have focused more on the draft and developing homegrown talent of their own. When they weren’t trading away their draft picks, a whole separate column could be written on the players the Rockets had a chance to draft, but didn’t.
The Rockets instead targeted a pair of declining but still effective and coveted (sounds familiar) stars in Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Initially the favorites to land Anthony in a trade with the New York Knicks, the Rockets lost out to the Thunder. The Rockets did complete a trade for Paul, but at the cost of many of the team’s best players and a giving mega-contract to Paul.
The initial returns on that investment looked promising, as the Rockets had the NBA’s best regular season record in 2017-18, but ultimately, they still couldn’t get past the Warriors. The Warriors, of course, ousted the Rockets from the playoffs again this year.
Amid conflicting reports concerning a deteriorating relationship between Harden and Paul and Paul’s albatross of a contract, the Rockets’ long search for a third superstar continues this offseason.
The quest is reaching almost “Moby Dick” levels of obsession and desperation. Hopefully, it has a better result than Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale.