Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone expressed confidence that the franchise doesn’t need a big-money tanking strategy to rebuild, referring to the first-round picks they received after the James Harden trade.
I’m 100 percent ready to do this again, Stone said Monday during a virtual presentation to the media. Again, you don’t have the advantage of knowing everything I know, but no part of me regrets that deal. I didn’t suspect it for a minute.
A lot of what I said about how maybe you don’t have to be bad [to rebuild], we’ve done that, but mostly it’s the agreement that allowed us to say: Hey, we want to be competitive on a slightly faster timeline. We’re not going to spend years deliberately trying to lose games.
Houston traded Victor Oladipo, the only known player the Rockets got in a four-way deal with Harden, minutes before Thursday’s deadline in exchange for guard Avery Bradley, forward/center Kelly Olynyk and 2022 first-round rights that include the Houston-owned Brooklyn Nets pick.
Stone said the Rockets made the deal after determining that Oladipo, who is becoming a free agent this season, was not a good fit for them and mentioned that the deal gives 20-year-old guard Kevin Porter Jr. some more minutes of playing time.
The Rockets decided to sell Harden to Brooklyn because of the potential value of the future pick. The deal gives Houston ownership of the Nets’ first-round picks in 2022, 24 and 26, the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick in 2023 and first-round trade rights with Brooklyn in 2021, 23, 25 and 27.
One of your colleagues texted me the day after the trade and said he would rank me in 2027, Stone said when asked by ESPN what he thought of Harden’s return after the Oladipo trade. And I told them it was too soon, that they should do it in 2030.
I think at that point we felt we had made the best deal for the franchise. Of course, it’s my job, so I did it. Especially with the stuff we brought back, yeah, there’s no way of knowing how you did it for several years – like three, five, something like that. But I feel good. I feel good.
The Rockets have the second-best record in the NBA this season (13-33). They recently set a record with a 20-game losing streak.
Stone attributed Houston’s struggles this season to the fact that the team was plagued by injuries and the effects of competing for championships in recent seasons without looking ahead.
I’m not apologizing for it at all, Stone said. Organizationally, we have been meeting every year for five or six years or more. Considering the players we had, the position we had, the way the team was built, I think we made the right choice. That’s how we got to the position we’re in now.
Since being promoted to general manager following the departure of Daryl Morey in mid-season, Stone has made building up a stock of first-round picks a priority. Stone led the team at a time when superstars Harden and Russell Westbrook were unhappy and getting offers – a season after the Rockets sent two first-round picks to the Oklahoma Thunder and two trades with Chris Paul in exchange for Westbrook. Trading rights are protected in the top 4 this year, which means extremely high lottery stakes for Houston.
Stone traded several first-round picks in addition to those he acquired in the Harden trade, including 2021 picks from the Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers, and draft picks from the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.
I definitely consider them a commodity, Stone said. It’s the only thing that becomes a commodity in the NBA. Everyone appreciates first rounds, and the better the pick, the higher the value.
Stone will use those picks to build a young core that we really like, consisting of 25-year-old Christian Wood, Porter and rookie forwards Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin.
Looking ahead, I’m confident we’re in a good position early on, Stone said. We’ll be making bets all the time. Everyone does it, it’s just the level at which you do it. We’ll get there… Not everyone will make it. … I don’t think we need to implement a large scale tanking strategy like some other teams have done in the past or maybe are doing now.