While it’s counter to popular opinion, I’ll always maintain that the Barkley trade was absolutely the right move to make and a successful one at that. It served its purpose: getting past Seattle. With Charles a man possessed in that series, Houston was able to get past a team that had tormented it in the years sandwiching the title runs. The Sonics could no longer zone down on Olajuwon with another potent post-man manning the opposite block. Indeed, the Barkley trade also was likely the cause of the loss to Utah. With Horry and Cassell, the Rockets had had no trouble disposing of the Jazz in prior years. But there would be no matchup with Utah without getting past Seattle first.
Also, it’s often stated that the deal robbed Houston of its future but again, I heartily disagree. Horry, for all of his postseason heroics, was not exactly a prime performer during the regular campaign. (His best statistical season came in 1996 when he averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds on 41% shooting from the floor.) Cassell, for his part, went on to greater heights, putting up fringe All-Star numbers after securing starting roles on the teams onto which he bounced around. But while he’s thought of as legend, he alone would not have been enough in those following years, especially with Olajuwon and Drexler sharply in decline. (After extending both Horry and Cassell, the Rockets would have been capped out and unable to make other additions; recall that it took shipping out those players in the Barkley deal to even fit Kevin Willis under the cap.) The Rockets probably would have sputtered and hung around in mediocrity until Olajuwon finally bowed out.
No, the Rockets had to go all in for one last hurrah, and they did. Who knows what might have happened had they signed one of the veteran point guards on the market in ’97 rumored to have been waiting for their call. John Stockton probably doesn’t go berserk in Game 6 with a more experienced hand applying pressure. And the next year, in ’98, despite just being the 8th seed, they had Utah on the ropes, up 2-1, holding the lead in Game 4, before a freak triceps injury to Barkley himself.
Carrol Dawson made many mistakes – this blog has been quick to point them out. But the Barkley trade was not one of them.