Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever

Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

On Feb. 4, the Rockets went to Memphis and beat the Grizzlies by 12 points for their seventh win in eight games, moving to 11-10 for the season. Certainly, Houston was outperforming expectations after trading away James Harden, but nobody knew how bad things were about to get.

A month and a half later, the win total for the Rockets still stands at 11, and now with 28 losses. The Rockets have lost everywhere from New York to Sacramento, and Toronto to New Orleans, with eight home losses thrown in amid their 18-game slide.

Houston was 44-28 last year and made it to the second round of the playoffs. It’s a hell of a fall from there to the third-worst record in the NBA. But it’s not unprecedented. In fact, unless the Rockets lose all the rest of their games, their drop-off in wins from last season to this one won’t even be a franchise record.

For most teams, the biggest decline in year-to-year wins on the books came in 1998-99, when a lockout shortened the season to 50 games. The Bulls had the biggest decline, going from 62-20 in Michael Jordan’s final year to 13-37 in Tim Floyd’s first campaign. Another team that went off a cliff in a shortened season is Golden State, which won 57 games and the West in 2019, then was 15-50 when coronavirus put the brakes on the Warriors’ 2019-20.

Because of the circumstances of Jordan’s retirement and the lockout, that 49-win drop-off is unlikely to be challenged as an NBA record. But what about the steepest year-to-year declines for full seasons? And which Rockets team of the past is echoing in the present?

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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1994-95 Warriors (-24)

1994-95 Warriors (-24)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

Golden State was a 50-win team in Chris Webber’s rookie year, but he clashed with Don Nelson and was traded to Washington for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round picks, all of which wound up being disasters in their own right, including the pick that Golden State used on Vince Carter and immediately traded for Antawn Jamison (no offense to Jamison, but Vince Carter is Vince Carter). Meanwhile, Chris Mullin was breaking down and played only 25 games, the only players on the 1994-95 team who managed to get into more than 70 contests were Keith Jennings and David Wood, and Nelson resigned. The bright spot was Manute Bol going 3-for-5 on three-pointers in what turned out to be the final few games of his NBA career.

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2008-09 Wizards (-24)

2008-09 Wizards (-24)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

Washington had been to the playoffs four straight seasons under Eddie Jordan, but came out of the gate flat with 10 losses in 11 games, and Ed Tapscott took the reins. The fact that Gilbert Arenas only played two games doesn’t really explain the decline — Arenas only played 13 the previous season. But Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson did miss most of the year, and the Wizards made a disastrous trade, shipping out Antonio Daniels and a first-round pick in a three-team trade to get Javaris Crittenton (the other guy in the Arenas gun incident the following season) and Mike James.

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2014-15 Timberwolves (-24)

2014-15 Timberwolves (-24)

Image: Getty Images

The impressive thing about the Timberwolves being 24 games worse in 2015 than 2014 is that they weren’t good in 2014 either, going 40-42. Minnesota decided to start over and traded its franchise player, Kevin Love, to the Cavaliers for a pair of former No. 1 overall picks. Unfortunately, those former No. 1 overall picks were Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. Minnesota brought back Kevin Garnett to start his farewell tour, so there’s that, as well as the trivia nugget that Garnett was teammates with Zach LaVine. Sadly, this was the only season of Flip Saunders’ second run as Minnesota coach, as he contracted Hodgkin’s lymphoma and died on October 25, 2015.

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2006-07 Grizzlies (-27)

2006-07 Grizzlies (-27)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

Suffice to say that trading Shane Battier for Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift did not work out for Memphis. Pau Gasol missed a chunk of the season, Eddie Jones went from cagey veteran to flat-out old, and Memphis didn’t really seem to know what it had in rookie Kyle Lowry while handing the point to Chucky Atkins. Mike Fratello was fired as coach after a 6-24 start, and things didn’t get a whole lot better under Tony Barone, though you can’t fault the coaching too much when Hakim Warrick is the most reliable player on the roster. The disaster season did at least turn into Mike Conley with the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft.

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2007-08 Heat (-29)

2007-08 Heat (-29)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

Pat Riley notched his 1,200th career victory in his final season as a head coach, so there’s that. Miami won the NBA title in 2006, got swept out of the first round of the playoffs in 2007, and then… went 15-67. Mark Blount started 46 games, Dorell Wright 34, and Chris Quinn 25. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem missed about half the season each and Miami traded the extremely spent Shaquille O’Neal to Phoenix for Shawn Marion. Alonzo Mourning went from being a regular to playing 25 games and starting none in his final season, and the trade of Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien, and a first-round pick for Mark Blount and Ricky Davis didn’t really work for either Miami or Minnesota.

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1964-65 Warriors (-31)

1964-65 Warriors (-31)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: AP

After making it to the NBA Finals and losing to the Celtics in 1964, San Francisco got off to a ragged start, and even though Wilt Chamberlain was scoring 38 points a game, the Warriors’ chemistry was in the toilet, and so were their finances, drained by Chamberlain’s $75,000 annual salary. So, they shipped him to the 76ers, and even though he only played 38 games for San Francisco, Chamberlain still was the Warriors’ leading scorer for the season. The tank worked out alright — San Francisco wound up with the No. 2 pick in the draft, picked Rick Barry, and went back to the Finals in 1967, eventually winning it all behind Barry in 1975.

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2018-19 Cavaliers (-31)

2018-19 Cavaliers (-31)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

50 wins and a fourth straight Eastern Conference title (with one ring) with LeBron James, 19 wins and a coaching change without LeBron James.

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1982-83 Rockets (-33)

1982-83 Rockets (-33)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

The Rockets matched the 76ers offer sheet for Moses Malone in September of 1982, then traded the reigning MVP to Philadelphia anyway for Caldwell Jones and a first-round pick, with which the Rockets passed on hometown product Clyde Drexler, as well as Byron Scott, to take Rodney McCray. But that was only after Houston went from 46 wins to 68 losses in the span of a year, which also landed the Rockets the No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft, Ralph Sampson. To his credit, Jones played decently for the Rockets, but also this was a team that leaned heavily on a 37-year-old Elvin Hayes and 34-year-old Calvin Murphy. The 76ers won the title with Malone. Maybe having the best player in the league is a good thing?

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1996-97 Spurs (-39)

1996-97 Spurs (-39)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

David Robinson, Chuck Person, and Sean Elliott got hurt, which left a 37-year-old Dominique Wilkins as San Antonio’s top scorer and Bob Hill out of a coaching job after 18 games, even though he’d led San Antonio to 59 wins the previous season. The Spurs’ general manager decided to go to the bench himself, even though his only head coaching experience was at Division III Pomona-Pitzer. After going 17-47 the rest of the way, Gregg Popovich decided to remain as the Spurs’ coach, and the timing of the disaster season could not have been better. The Spurs got Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, and won the first of five titles under Popovich in 1999.

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2010-11 Cavaliers (-42)

2010-11 Cavaliers (-42)

Illustration for article titled Tanks a lot! Rockets going from 44-28 to 11-28 is putrid, but not most historic NBA drop-off ever
Image: Getty Images

LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, and the Cavs just went south, going from 61 wins to 63 losses. It wasn’t all so bad, though. Cleveland traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and a first-round pick, and that Clippers selection wound up being No. 1 overall, which brought Kyrie Irving to Cleveland. The Cavs’ own pick was at No. 4, and they used that one on Tristan Thompson, another key piece of the 2016 championship roster.

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Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.