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On the Hakeem, Jordan, and Drexler scenario

I watched last night’s NBATV documentary on the ’84 Draft in hopes of some mention of the matter in our title.  Unfortunately, there was none.  Of course, as the legend goes, Portland had offered Houston the #2 pick along with Clyde Drexler (the #14 pick in ’83) for Ralph Sampson; Houston already owned the ’84 #1 pick.  The Rockets could have used that #2 pick to team Michael Jeffrey Jordan alongside Akeem and Clyde.  They declined, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In hindsight, the Rockets obviously made the wrong decision.  You don’t need me to explain that.  But I’ve come across people who argue that regardless of hindsight, the team should have taken the Portland offer.  What?

Imagine you had Anthony Davis and had the chance to draft Joel Embid.  Someone then offers you Michael Carter Williams* and the chance to draft Andrew Wiggins in exchange for Davis.  No chance in hell you do that trade.

*Carter Williams was the closest comparison I could think of for a second year Clyde Drexler in terms of ‘trade value potential’ and even that is being extremely generous in that a) Clyde was coming off a year where he averaged just 7ppg whereas Carter Williams just won the ROY, though in a historically weak draft class, on a Philadelphia team where he took all of the shots.  But you could make the plausible case that Carter Williams has more potential than Clyde was thought to have before blossoming.  b) Carter Williams is a point guard thus mitigating in our scenario one of the biggest concerns with a Drexler-Jordan pairing: positional overlap.

Someone on Twitter responded that Wiggins is no Jordan.  Thanks, Sherlock.  I don’t really need to go into the breakdown of logic on that one.

But the greater point is that Jordan is perhaps the greatest aberration in the history of sports.  No one could have ever expected he would become close to what he became.  His realistic ceiling coming out was probably Clyde Drexler’s actual career.  In fact, Jordan’s trajectory raises an interesting point about Lebron James: has anyone, ever, been so hyperbolically hyped and then actually matched the hype?  Not only is he every bit as good as he was said to one day become, but he’s responded to every single criticism of his game from becoming the best postup player in the league to becoming a good jump shooter.  Unbelievable.

But back to my main point:  Anthony Davis with Embid?  Game over.  You’re thinking ring party for the next decade.  And that’s what the Rockets had in ’84.

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Total comments: 8
  • ale11 says 4 months ago

    Would have been awesome, could have definitely worked, but MJ doesn't reach GOAT status, because there would have been too much "big 3" chatter that prevented the individual greatness to be properly separated from the collective greatness. Lots of rings though....

  • rocketrick says 4 months ago As a long-time NBA fan just curious why this "supposed" possibility was not more on the surface, especially since the Rockets had already made the NBA Finals recently (1981) and immediately after the Rockets made the Finals in 1986.

    Just wasn't a topic of any significance at that time, I would absolutely have remembered as a die-hard Rockets fan.

    Personally, this seems much, much more a distant rumour than an actual possibility of happening. Most likely a passing comment that had no reality.

    It would be quite helpful to share any links to stories and news reports that may be available for that now distant history that may have, but very likely in my opinion did not, occur(red).
  • majik19 says 4 months ago

    Isn't the best comparison for this scenario the modern day Heat?

    We would essentially have Lebron (MJ), Wade (Clyde), and Bosh (Olajuwon). Obviously Olajuwon is tons better than Bosh, but you get the idea. So the simplistic analysis says yes, it could have worked - just add some touches to the post, allowing Jordan to rest offensively some possessions and keeping Hakeem happy.

    That being said, part of the reason it works today is because the Heat can go small with Lebron playing PF. I don't think that would have worked in the 80s. I was born in '86, so I can't really speak to the game in the 80s, but in the early 90s I remember teams having bruising power forwards that MJ/Clyde would not have wanted to guard (nor would it have been fair to ask them).

    Another difference is that Wade is on the decline while Clyde would have been on the rise - that probably would have led to a situation like the OKC Harden situation.

    But it sure is nice to dream of a team with 3 players who are all in the all time top 10 of their positions.

  • Buckko says 4 months ago I know we can have discussions on egos, but if the rockets were getting both those guys as rookies, they would have more than likely been able to have the time to mold those two egos into the deadliest duo in basketball fantasy.
  • feelingsupersonic says 4 months ago

    We are all obviously speculating but all kinds of possible outcomes become real possibilities. With regards to Akeem and Jordan playing together I believe it would have worked quite well. I cannot speak as to the growing pains but Olajuwon would have less pressure of delivering offensively on a short timeline as well as be benefiting on the court as Jordan would be commanding double teams and Olajuwon would have been the easiest out for Jordan in traffic. Both of their respective competitive drives would have spurred each other to new heights.

    I agree there might have not been enough room for Clyde but then imagine he gets traded for Jack Sikma or Larry Nance. That ends up being a tough team.

  • Alituro says 4 months ago

    They were better off without the trade, at the time. They made it to the finals in '86, something I doubt they would have done loaded with such young (albeit future hall of famers) talent. It wasn't until 4 years later for POR and 5 years for CHI before either other team made it to the finals. The immediate impact of pairing the original twin towers was way more substantial than adding a hot-shot SG would have been. If it weren't for Sampson's knees, we would have been right there for many years to come. The twin towers, in full force were... wait for it... "unbeatable". The right choice was made.

  • Red94 says 4 months ago New post: Hakeem, Jordan, Drexler continued
    By: rahat huq

    I wrote yesterday about the scenario which would have seen Hakeem, Jordan, and Drexler spend their careers together in Houston.  A reader, Buckko, writes:


    However I disagree about Clyde and Jordan pairing not working. At 6'7" Clyde could have easily switch to SF. Then a few years later the rockets still could have traded for Otis Thorpe. Those four players, doesn't matter who else you're playing with, just that Russell would be 2nd in rings.

    To begin, Thorpe never becomes a Rocket just simply because the chain of events set off from such an initial alteration would've made later events unpredictable.  Also, Rodney McCray, who was traded for Thorpe, wouldn't have developed the trade value if Clyde and MJ were on the team.

    The more interesting matter is that of coexistence between Clyde and Michael.  The swing positions are certainly interchangeable, even if they weren't quite as much in yesteryear as they are today.  But I'm more interested in ego management.  Having watched the recent NBATV documentary on Michael Jordan (an interview with Ahmad Rashad), I understand better that Scottie Pippen really was a creation of Michael Jordan.  Does that same dynamic play out with Clyde?  With Scottie coming into the league later, there was a clear little brother-big brother hierarchy.  Why would Clyde take a backseat?  Even more, its no secret that Clyde wasn't the easiest player to get along with, especially after the acquisition of Barkley.  He got along with Hakeem because they were longtime friends and, who doesn't get along with Hakeem?  But in this scenario, I think Clyde eventually ends up getting traded, and if he's sharing the ball with Michael and Akeem, its probably for 50 cents on the dollar...maybe for Otis Thorpe?

    Another reader, @BrianEaton3, writes:


    who do you think would've been "the guy" in that scenario? I lean towards Jordan but Hakeem wasn't one to take a back seat

    Inherently MJ, just by virtue of the simple fact that you didn't have to get him the ball.  He already had it in his hand off the inbound.  Do these two guys reach their full potential if playing together through their formative stages?  Let's step back here a bit and conceptualize this discussion: we're talking about a scenario where there was actually a possibility that the game's greatest player of all-time could have spent his entire career on the same team as an arguable contender for game's greatest big man.*

    *Hakeem wasn't the game's greatest big man and if you polled ten NBA general managers, none of the ten would name him as such.  (But at least five of those would probably pay Chandler Parsons $12mill/year or something similarly stupid.)  But there's a reach of mental gymnastics that can arrive one at such a desired end conclusion.  Had he not toiled away the majority of his career with the likes of Sleepy Floyd as his second best player, as opposed to the 'who's who of Hall of Famers' laundry list Shaq/Duncan have each enjoyed as teammates, he invariably has more success.  I mean, think about it.  Duncan came onto a team ready-made for a title, next to David Robinson.  Shaq played with Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, and Lebron James, a list that could better be referred to as "the best perimeter players since MJ."

    But back to the fun.  Hakeem's defensive talents would've come out because that was just raw hunger and desire to swallow up anything near the basket vicinity.  Same with Jordan, though in that case the origins were more an urge to humiliate his opponent.  (I don't think Hakeem wanted to humiliate anyone.  He just felt ownership over his basket.)  But do these guys coexist on offense?  Does Hakeem's offensive arsenal blossom into what it did (ie: the most unfathomable display of moves in NBA history)?  I don't know if the two young guys would've gotten along.  I mean, Hakeem, errr Akeem, embraced Ralph, but Ralph wasn't an alpha-male like Jordan.  Maybe the two are at each other's throats every day in practice but find a way to kill the opposition when between the lines.  And this raises more questions about Phil Jackson because Phil Jackson would have made that work by suggesting some sort of spiritual retreat where each player has to close his eyes and imagine his purpose in life within thirty seconds.  Does MJ become what he did without Phil?  Does Akeem find Islam with Phil?  Does Akeem turn to Buddhism?  This whole exercise is getting out of hand.  But I just am not entirely sure it would have worked.

    And that's the thing about maturity and ego.  I spoke with a colleague recently about 'Melo and we both agreed that we didn't foresee either he or Dwight having problems relinquishing the spotlight.  (Awesome.  I was able to coherently transition this thing into a discussion on Carmelo Anthony, a matter I simply cannot get my mind off).  I don't feel Harden is anywhere near there, but Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are now both 29 years old.  They are cognizant of their basketball mortality and cognizant of their lack of success in relation to their ultimate peer, Lebron James.  I think they realize that if they want success, they will have to share.  And you saw Dwight do it last year.  I think Melo would gladly do it as well.  Would Harden?  The ass-whooping he took at the hands of the Blazers couldn't have hurt matters on that front.

  • Buckko says 4 months ago Yes, in hindsight the rockets should have done the trade, but at the time it didn't seem like a fair shake. However I disagree about Clyde and Jordan pairing not working. At 6'7" Clyde could have easily switch to SF. Then a few years later the rockets still could have traded for Otis Thorpe. Those four players, doesn't matter who else you're playing with, just that Russell would be 2nd in rings. That and the rockets become the 3rd most historic and premium basketball franchise behind only the Celtics and lakers, maybe even 1st in modern eyes, while ruling the golden age of basketball where everyone around the world who watches American basketball is probably a rockets fan in some sort. Hakeem solidifies himself as the greatest center ever while heart breakers by the jazz and super sonics never happen, but it's bad to dwell on what could've been.

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