Every year in the Gregorian Calendar is 365.25 days. No matter what events, chaos, or craziness happen along the way every year is the exact same length. But they don’t always feel like the same length. Sometimes a month can feel like a year, and other times a week can feel like a blink. For whatever reason, we don’t all feel time at the same speed it passes. And for the Houston Rockets? A year ago feels like a different lifetime. And,  in some ways, it was.

On January 13th, 2021, in the wee hours of the morning, everyone was sharing the viral clip of James Harden saying “We’re just not good enough … I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can… This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.” By mid-morning, Harden was asked to not return to the practice facility. By the afternoon? Houston was deciding between trades. Before nightfall, Harden was en route to Brooklyn. In less than 24 hours a near-decade of top-tier basketball, fighting feverishly for a title was done. 

Now that the trade is more than one year old, who won? Who lost? What do we actually know?

Who lost

Stephen Silas

Rightly or wrongly, the brunt of the criticism of the current Houston Rockets fall at the feet of first-time head coach Stephen Silas. Silas is 19-86 as the head coach of the Houston Rockets, his teams regularly post bottom of the league defensive ratings, and his player rotations constantly infuriate #RocketsTwitter. 

But remember what Stephen Silas signed up for. Silas was an assistant in the NBA for twenty seasons and six different franchises before finally getting his chance in Houston. Silas orchestrated a historically efficient offense in Dallas under head coach Rick Carlisle. The offense utilized All-Star Luka Doncic’s crafty skill set, was perimeter-oriented, and relied heavily on spacing and pacing better than their opponents. 

In Houston, Silas wanted to run that system with two MVP guards, a roster of perimeter players, and follow up the Godfather of the seven-seconds-or-less movement in the 2000s. Instead? Less than a month into his first season as a head coach, all of those parts were gone. 

Say what you want about Silas’s win-loss record. His roster was beaten up and stripped down a year ago, he’s had management dictate some of his rotations, and the job he is being asked to do is the opposite end of the pendulum swing from what he agreed to. 

Silas coaches from a place of love. His reaction to Kevin Porter Jr.’s angry outburst? Love. His response to Harden and Westbrook fleeing the scene? “Still love.” How does he describe his time in Houston, after the roller-coaster it’s been? “All love.” That he’s catching any flack is a loss… Silas has plenty of flaws, as all NBA coaches do. But there’s no coach who could have, realistically, navigated the shift better. Even if twitter would make you think otherwise.

Christian Wood

Much like Silas, potential All-Star Christian Wood signed on for a very different role. As a three-level post player, Christian Wood hoped to pair with Russell Westbrook and James Harden in ways that complemented both of them. With Westbrook? Wood could play along the perimeter and let “small-ball Russ” go off. With Harden? He could screen-and-roll at the rim for the floater/lob that Harden and Capela outwitted defenses with for years. 

Instead? By mid-January, Wood was paired with John Wall, Eric Gordon, and a rotation of inexperienced and ill-fit pieces. 

Christian Wood has demonstrated that when he’s the best healthy and active player on a team, it is a team fighting for the top pick in the NBA draft. But that’s not what he signed up for. He signed up to be the best role-player for a contender. The hit to his resume in that role shift has been dramatic.

Houston’s inability to defend the rim? Blamed on Wood. Houston’s slow isolation sequences? Blamed on him. Houston’s low ceiling for the near future? Blamed on him. But Wood didn’t ask for any of this, and now he looks like one of the Rockets’ most desirable trade pieces.

Who won

PJ Tucker, NBA Champion

After everything fell out of the bottom in Houston, PJ Tucker was clearly unhappy in Houston. Tucker had built relationships with Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. After the team broke up, his friends (and the wins) were all gone. Tucker’s tenor made its way to the floor. His statistics suffered while he and his agent fought for a new contract. 

But, at the deadline, the Houston Rockets moved PJ Tucker to Milwaukee for DJ Augustin and DJ Wilson. In Milwaukee? Tucker added a level of toughness that jumps off the screen in film. He went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant in a heated second-round match-up. Tucker was assigned to cover Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton in the same Finals game. He regained his confidence from the corner and added grit to the eventual champion Bucks. 

Accounts from practice depict Tucker as the vocal leader that would leap for a rebound in five-on-zero drills. He brought a level of toughness to the Bucks that elevated them from contender to Champion. He wasn’t the MVP, but he was crucial. 

That performance landed PJ Tucker a new deal in Miami. Is there anything more PJ Tucker than Miami Heat basketball? Tough, hard-nosed on the floor. South Beach lifestyle off of it. Tucker found his new home, and is a perfect fit there as well. Tucker’s championship pedigree, along with the same from Markieff Morris and Kyle Lowry, is what makes Miami a favorite in the tough East this season.  

Kevin Porter Jr.

Kevin Porter Jr. was in a tough spot. After a turbulent rookie year in Cleveland, some off-season trouble, and a locker-room outburst, the Cavaliers and “Scoot” were parting ways. The promising prospect appeared to have burnt his bridges in the city famous for catching a river on fire.

In stepped the Houston Rockets. Houston swapped a top-55 protected pick (there are just 60 picks) for rights to the young guard. The Rockets asked Porter to play in the G League bubble to learn the system before suiting up in Houston. By the end of May, he had a 50-point 11 assist night on the eventual champion Bucks.

Porter’s time in Houston has not been spotless. He’s had his fair share of technical fouls and questionable decisions on the floor. The transition into a point guard is a work in progress. And within the last two weeks, Porter Jr. did leave the facility mid-game. 

Kevin Porter Jr. is winning the Rockets rebuild because, as a kid who needs the “TLC” of an understanding program, he can be one of the guys at the center of it. Unlike other teams at the bottom of the standings, the Houston Rockets are embracing their youth and their youth’s flaws. 

Porter Jr. needed a franchise with a mentor like John Lucas. He needed a GM who wouldn’t kick him off the team when he overreacted. And he needed a coach who, when asked how to respond to Porter Jr.’s abrupt exodus, responded with “Love him.”

Porter Jr. could develop into a dynamic combo guard of the future champion Rockets. He could top-out at a rotational role player who will always have that one 50-11 game. While time will tell all of that, none of that would be able to happen without the chance to start over with a team doing the same. 

Jalen Green

You could argue Jalen Green was always going to be a star. He worked relentlessly on his game. He was a top prospect in High School and opted to play professionally instead of feigning going to college classes. Green’s had all eyes on being the best basketball player in the world. 

And Houston hopes he does it.

The Rockets have gone all-in on supporting Jalen Green. They’ve drafted and gathered players to help him feel comfortable in his new home. Familiar face Josh Christopher was on his AAU team. KJ Martin is another SoCal product. 

Jalen Green became the face of a franchise with just a half-dozen losing seasons in the 37 seasons since drafting Hakeem Olajuwon. Green aims to have his number in the rafters with other Hall of Famers like Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Yao Ming, Clyde Drexler, and Calvin Murphy. He wants his number, alongside a McGrady #1 and Harden #13, but will there be the all-important banner with them: 20_ _? 

Some franchises seem cursed. Yes, LeBron James won a miraculous title in Cleveland after the Warriors threw a 3-1 lead… but even with his time there, Cleveland has had three times as many losing seasons since 1984. Detroit has had 17 such seasons in that window. As far as the top three picks go, Green landed in the winningest franchise a top pick could ask for. 

Green’s development thus far has been beautiful. He has adjusted the starting point of his jump shot, along with the speed, and has found his ways to get to the line. In January he’s begun to find ways to blow by defenders and, with the single-big lineups, he’s found empty lanes on the way to the rim. 

Green feels special in the same way Harden felt special in his first game in Houston. He appears as good as advertised in the same way Yao Ming was when he was an All-Star as a rookie. His athleticism jumps off the screen as Steve Francis’ did in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Green’s work ethic comes off as heroic and legendary in the same way Hakeem Olajuwon built his repertoire of unfathomable post moves. 

His swag? He’s Houston. He got the grill, he throws up the H, and he plays relentlessly. He’s the franchise.


James Harden

In his first calendar year in Brooklyn, Harden and the Nets sit near the top of the NBA again. The Nets continue to tinker and toy with the regular season, but their goal is to avenge last year’s woes. An ankle injury to Kyrie Irving, an oversized Kevin Durant sneaker, and Harden’s own hamstring kept the Nets from knocking out the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden, notably, has not signed a contract extension in Brooklyn. Harden will have the option to come back to the Nets in 2022-23, or sign on for longer, but he could be out as soon as the year is over. The Nets feel like a giant science experiment. A Hall of Fame player coaching them with no experience. Misfit parts surround three of the greatest isolation players the game has ever seen. Reclamation veterans litter their bench. The Nets can win an NBA title (or several). But will the science experiment work? Or will Frankenstein’s monster wreck the town?

Harden has, publicly, said there’s no ill-will in Houston, and many of the Rockets faithful say the same. But whether or not he “won” by leaving the Rockets will only be known if and when he, literally, wins. The Houston Rockets were famously “a hamstring away” from beating one of the greatest champions the NBA has ever seen. While that was technically a conference finals series because there was no eastern seaboard representation, it’s hard to imagine Harden could get closer to winning a title than that de facto championship series without literally winning the championship. And if he does that in Brooklyn? He did it. He won. And if they don’t? 

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets hit the reset button harder than any meme could ever indicate. Sure, they reeled off six straight wins and had a league-leading defense immediately following the Harden trade… but Houston finished the 2021 season 17-55. This year? They’re just 12-31. That’s a combined 19-86. Houston’s lowest win total with Harden on the roster was in 2015-16, when the Rockets went 41-41.

But the Rockets jump-started the rebuild with four draft picks, including the second overall. Houston has a plethora of young talent that has, potentially, several key pieces to future contenders in the NBA. Further, with the poor record this year, Jalen Green is a generational athlete with star potential. Alperen Sengun could be another international big man with his jersey in Houston’s rafters. Josh Christopher bursts off the screen, KJ Martin and Kevin Porter Jr. jump off the screen. And with any luck, Houston’s bad record will yield another big draft this summer. 

But can they develop all their pieces?

GM Rafael Stone is steering a ship, but it’s his first time in charge. It’s hard to tell what the Houston Rockets will build when we’ve never seen Stone build anything. He’s got the draft picks over the next half-decade, and he appears to have hit on his first draft. That strong base will set Stone and the Rockets up for success, but will they realize it? Only time will tell. 

For more on sports, sneakers, and fandom, follow me @painsworth512 for more. Give our podcast “F” In Sports a listen wherever you listen to podcasts! Be sure to check our NEW weekly basketball show, The Midweek Midrange, on YouTube,Twitter, and Instagram!
About Author

Parker Ainsworth

Senior NBA Writer, Co-Host of "F" In Sports and The Midweek Midrange. Parker is a hoops head, "retired" football player, and sneaker aficionado. Austinite born in Houston, located in Dallas after a brief stint in LA... Parker is a well-traveled Texan, teacher, and coach. Feel free to contact Parker- https://linktr.ee/PAinsworth512

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