Victor Oladipo, the only big-name player the Rockets got in return for James Harden, barely stayed in Houston for two months, but general manager Rafael Stone doesn’t regret making the deal with the Nets, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
Oladipo was traded to Miami last week for a modest return of Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a 2022 pick swap. As a result, the Rockets’ haul for Harden mostly consists of the collection of draft picks Stone received from the Nets (and Cavs) in the four-team blockbuster.
“I would for sure, 100 percent, do that deal again,” Stone said. “Again, you guys don’t have the advantages of knowing everything I know, but literally no part of me regrets doing that deal. I have not second-guessed it for a moment. A lot of what I said about being in a position maybe to not have to be bad (to rebuild), there’s some other things that we’ve done, too, but it’s primarily that deal that’s allowed us to say, ‘Hey, we want to compete on a slightly quicker time frame.’ We’re not going to go down this path of intentionally trying to lose games for years on end.”
The Rockets could have hung unto Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen in the Harden trade, but flipped LeVert to Indiana for Oladipo and sent Allen to Cleveland along with Taurean Prince for a future first-round pick.
After acquiring Oladipo, the Rockets determined he wasn’t a good fit alongside John Wall and a group of young players. Oladipo is headed for free agency this summer, and Houston wasn’t willing to make the financial commitment it would have taken to re-sign him. The team also wants to give more playing time to 20-year-old guard Kevin Porter Jr., who was acquired from the Cavaliers in January and played in the G League until early March.
The Harden trade could eventually pay huge dividends for the Rockets, who received draft capital from Brooklyn over the next seven years. Stone said critics need to be patient in examining what the team got in return for its superstar.
“One of your colleagues texted me the day after the trade and they said they would evaluate me in 2027,” Stone told McMahon. “And I told them that that was too early; they should do it in 2030. I think we felt at the time that we did the best deal for the franchise possible. Obviously, that’s my job, so I did it. Particularly given the types of things we got back, yeah, it feels like you can’t possibly know how you did for multiple years — like three, five, something like that. But I feel good about it. I do feel good about it.”
The Rockets have bottomed out since the Harden deal, losing 20 straight games at one point and falling into a tie for the league’s second-worst record. Stone said injuries played a part in the collapse, as well as the lack of a foundation after so many years of making short-term moves in pursuit of a title.
Stone has worked this year to build up a stockpile of draft picks, and he believes Houston can quickly rebuild around a “young core that we really like” made up of Porter, center Christian Wood and rookie forwards Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin.
“In terms of how we go from here, I feel pretty comfortable that we like where we are in the beginning stages,” Stone said. “We’re going to take constant bets. Everybody does that; it’s just the level you do it at. We’re going to do it — not all of them are going to work out. … I don’t think that we need to do like a wholesale tank strategy like some other teams have done in the past or maybe are doing now.”