The 5 Most Frustrating Players in Recent Rockets History

This was a very difficult list to make.  I’ve watched roughly 95% of the Houston Rockets’ games since 1994 and have seen a lot of bad basketball and a lot of extremely bad players.  I was there the year Matt Bullard and Walt Williams started in tandem at the forward spots.  I was there when Scottie Pippen fell down in a series-ending Game 1 and again present when Mo Taylor found Krispy Kreme.  I’ve seen it all or at least as much as any other adult living in this era.  Nevertheless, I’m confident in the validity of these rankings and confident that true justice has been served.  Without further ado, on to the list:

5. Ron Artest

This was a tough call.  Were it not for his positives, he would have ranked far lower down on this page.  Close and late in crucial games, he’d get an “itch” out of nowhere, going berserk in attempts to shoulder the team.  Left was palatable, but if he ever drove right, it almost always ended badly; we all remember the one-footed fallaway jumpers in that direction.

Still, Artest played his role for the most part, deferring to Yao.  He was a surprisingly good post passer and rarely took plays off.  But most in his favor was the ‘aura’ he brought, something this team has lacked sorely since his departure.  Today’s Rockets ‘play hard and never quit’, a cutesy backhanded compliment better reserved for children, but they lack ‘nasty’ and command of respect.  Ron Artest did not allow hard fouls or unnecessary roughness against his ‘mates.  At the end of bad losses, he made sure opponents were given something to at least remember.  For this fan, that attitude was hugely appreciated.

4. Steve Francis

There are few guys whom from watching I’ve learned more about basketball.  Most importantly, just because someone can dribble and is short doesn’t mean he is a point guard.  Steve Francis has as many ‘crossover mixes’ as anyone on YouTube, but he wasn’t a floor general.  Looking back, with the basketball knowledge I’ve accrued since his rookie season, it’s mind-blowingly stupefying that Rudy T. ever even put him at point to begin with.  (Then again, considering Rudy T’s overall inabilities as a coach, perhaps this isn’t so surprising…).

Francis played shooting guard in his sole season of college ball.  These kids that play the ’1′ spend their entire lives through drills and rigorous training developing the cognitive instincts necessary for the position.  Just because you have a nice ‘in and out’ dribble and can make someone fall doesn’t mean you’re a general.  Point guards have it drilled in their brains to stay in the middle of the floor, get to the kill spots, feed the hot hand, never over-dribble, pass out of a press, and not try to dribble through a zone.  These were all foreign concepts to Steve Francis.

To his credit, few men in franchise history gave more effort.  But watching him featured as the team’s centerpiece at a position at which he didn’t even have the tools to succeed epitomized frustration.  Maybe Rudy T. and Carrol Dawson should have inhabited this spot on my list?

3. Matt Maloney

I’ll forever maintain that were it not for Matthew M. Maloney, the Houston Rockets would have won the Western Conference in 1997 and finally squared off against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

As the story goes, Carrol Dawson turned down an offer that would have brought veteran point guard Derek Harper to the Rockets in exchange for Brent Price and a future first.  Dawson balked at the deal, Price got hurt, and the rest is history.  Several other veteran point guard options were available (Tim Hardaway?  Kevin Johnson?).  Entering the playoffs with only a rookie Maloney and Sedale Threatt was completely inexcusable.  In fact, after Game 4 of the semifinals (against Seattle) the team might not have even missed a beat with me playing the position.  With 7 minutes remaining in the series-clinching Game 6, Jazz point guard John Stockton went ‘Hall of Fame’ on Maloney and that was that.

One could even argue that since that 7 minute mark, the Rockets franchise has still not recovered.

2. Luther Head

As I quipped on ESPN, Luther Head may have been the worst professional basketball player I’ve ever seen.  How a 6’3 guard without handles or passing made the NBA is a mystery or perhaps should provide incentive to go work on your shot.  He’d throw passes at big men’s feet and get abused by anyone with ability.  If Head put it on the floor, it was almost always a turnover.  Who can forget his epically historic ’08 postseason when he shot .071% from the floor (going 1-14) as a crucial bench contributor upon whom the squad was depending.

In fact, perhaps the only redeeming quality about Head may have been his last name which made for some convenient punchlines.

1. Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza is indisputably the most frustrating player to have ever graced a Houston Rockets uniform.  The thing about the preceding four on this list is that they were at least lovable.  Artest instilled pride and commanded respect.  Francis played his ass off and had a swagger that at times was admirable.  Maloney and Head were just cute clueless kids you felt guilty soon afterwards about trashing to your friends.  Trevor Ariza was none of these.  Trevor Ariza not only was bad but had cringe-inducing character.  He’d bitch at teammates for not passing him the ball.  He’d ignore the hot hand (usually Carl Landry during one of his typical fourth quarter outbursts.)  I realized I abhorred Ariza when he swung at a helpless DeMar DeRozan, even then failing to connect on his target.

Ariza brought with him a strange sense of entitlement, the former small forward from the then-defending world champion Lakers.  He was awful, yet thought he was the best player on the team.  He’d try to drive, but failed the handles or footwork to do it.  He’d routinely get caught in awkward positions.  If it wasn’t a slash to the hoop, there was little he could do.  In fact, the one thing I gained from the Trevor Ariza experience was an appreciation for the refined skillset of Tracy McGrady.

Honorable Mentions: Shandon Anderson, Cuttino Mobley pre-JVG

Shandon Anderson should have been ‘Shandn Andersn’ because he had no ‘o.’  He’s up there with Head in offensive futility.  How can NBA guards dribble so poorly?  Second thought: John Stockton and Jerry Sloan were really, really good at getting this guy his contract.

I lost a lot of hair watching Cuttino Mobley especially when he’d hold the ball down, stare down at his defender’s shoes, dribble, dribble, and jack.  But to his credit, I can’t remember a more drastic transformation than Mobley pre and post Jeff Van Gundy.  He completely changed his game, becoming more efficient, utilizing screens and spotting up within the offense.  Mobley was also the most underrated defender in recent Rockets history.

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