In the Rockets' debut season, they won only 15 games. But after drafting Elvin Hayes first overall in the 1969 NBA Draft, they made their first appearance in the playoffs in 1969. After Hayes was traded, Moses Malone was later acquired to replace him. Malone went on to win the MVP award twice, and lead Houston to the conference finals in his first year with the team. He also took the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1981, but they were defeated in six games by Larry Bird's Boston Celtics which also featured the Rockets current head coach, Kevin McHale.
In 1984, the Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon who, paired with Ralph Sampson and both collectively known as the "Twin Towers", led them to the 1986 Finals in their second and third year respectively, where in another brave effort they lost again to the Boston Celtics. In the next seven seasons, plagued by injury including to Sampson who would be traded in 1988, they lost in the first round of the playoffs five times, until finally advancing in 1993 with a re-tooled roster past the L.A. Clippers and battle the rival Seattle SuperSonics to the bitter end before falling short in an overtime Game 7. Inspired by the tough playoff defeat, Olajuwon famously proclaimed to the team "We go from here." The Rockets stormed all the way to the 1994 NBA Finals, where Olajuwon led them to the franchise's first championship against his rival Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. The team repeated as champions in 1995 with a memorable run as the 6th seed in the West and sweeping the favored Orlando Magic led by a young Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. After winning two championships, the Rockets traded away most of the championship team for Charles Barkley, changed their championship uniforms, and, to date, have not advanced to the finals again. They missed the playoffs from 2000–2003 and did not reach the playoffs again until they drafted Yao Ming and they did not advance past the first round of the playoffs again until 2009. Following Yao Ming's retirement in 2011, the Rockets entered a period of rebuilding, failing to reach the playoffs for 3 straight seasons. With a complete dismantling of the team entering the 2012 season, the Rockets have proclaimed "a new age" and their period of rebuilding over, capped by their first playoffs clinch on April 9, 2013.
2012–present: A New Age
After dealing away Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for an unprotected first-round draft pick and letting Goran Dragić return to the Phoenix Suns via free agency, Houston was in search of a point guard. On July 11, The Rockets signed Jeremy Lin to a 3 year, $25.1 million contract as the New York Knicks decided not to match this offer. Lin achieved worldwide fame with a 25 game stretch of high performance basketball play known as "Linsanity", where he stepped up in place of the New York Knicks' injured stars. On July 20, restricted free agent from the Chicago Bulls Ömer Aşık signed an offer sheet with the Rockets, worth $25.1 million for three years. The Bulls decided to not match the offer on July 24, 2012, and he officially joined the Rockets. On October 27, 2012 the Rockets traded Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb and two future first-round picks (one of which was the pick received for Lowry) for reigning sixth man of the year James Harden, along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward; Hayward was released shortly after the trade. Harden had 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and a block in his debut as a Rocket, while Jeremy Lin, whose playing time was limited by foul trouble, had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals. Harden also signed a 5-year extension contract with the Rockets worth approximately $80 million. Harden scored a career-high 45 points in his second game with the Rockets against the Atlanta Hawks. Jeremy Lin tied a career-high of 38 points in an overtime loss to the Spurs while Harden was out with an ankle sprain. James Harden became the face of the franchise and was selected to the 2013 NBA All-Star game, which was held in Houston. James Harden is also the first all-star to play for the Rockets since Yao Ming.
On February 5, 2013, the Houston Rockets equaled the NBA team record for the most made 3-point field goals of 23 against the Golden State Warriors. In this game, the Rockets also achieved a home game record for most points scored at the Toyota Center with a 140-109 victory.
The Rockets acquired 2012 5th overall pick Thomas Robinson in a trade with the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 20, 2013. They traded away Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson. On that same night, the Rockets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-119 after trailing by 14 with 6:58 remaining in the game.
Despite being the youngest team in the NBA, the Rockets became one of the highest scoring offenses in the NBA. Even more remarkable was that only three players - starting forward Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, and Aaron Brooks who they signed from the Sacramento Kings via contract buyout- were left from the 2011-12 roster. Head coach Kevin McHale ran an up-tempo offense that put emphasis on transition baskets, shooting three-pointers, and playing at a fast pace. As a result, the Rockets became one of the highest scoring offenses in the NBA, leading the league in scoring for the majority of the season. harris In the post-season, the Rockets fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, losing
Houston Rockets Roster