John Wall

Rafael Stone Talks Upcoming Draft, Scouting, John Wall, More

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone sat down for an extended conversation with Kelly Iko of The Athletic as the team heads into a major offseason, looking to continue a massive roster overhaul.

After being compelled into trading All-Star guard James Harden to Brooklyn, an injury-plagued Houston team finished with a 17-55 record during its inaugural season under new head coach Stephen Silas.

In the interview, Stone discusses a variety of topics, including how he and his front office team are prepping for what could be a loaded 2021 draft, the way he and his staff evaluate talent in an effort to land under-the-radar depth, and what he projects as the futures of two of the team’s priciest veteran players.

The full story is well worth a read, as Stone also touches on his relationship with team owner Tilman Fertitta, how the team dealt with COVID-19-related challenges during the 2020/21 season, his chemistry with Silas, and more.

Here are some highlights:

On taking an open-minded approach to talent in the upcoming 2021 draft:

“I’m definitely not geared towards any one type of player; we’re just going to try and find the player or players that we think have the potential to be the best. We’re not a team in our iteration that should be focused on this position versus that position, A. But B, I don’t know that any team is generally doing that in the draft. I think the draft is where you’re trying to find just good talented basketball players, I think, where you start thinking about real positionality and holes is more free agency.”

On Houston’s scouting process:

“It’s definitely a collective effort. It’s not just me, I’d say I do my best to use as many different sources of information as I can… I watch a ton. I try to watch them in different situations, I try to envision how they’ll look in our system, both offensively and defensively… My way of thinking about it is you try to funnel. If you can get people who think about basketball differently excited about the same guy, then maybe that’s an interesting guy. When you get to undrafted free agents, or the end of the second round in some respects, you can take a little bit more risk.”

On pricey point guard John Wall‘s long-term fit with Houston:

“John was great… Highly competitive guy who’s nice, super high basketball IQ. We were talking to our young guys the other day, and they were laughing about how John looks like he’s half-listening, and then they’ve got questions and he’s walking them through A, B, C through quadruple Z. He’s been around long enough now. He understands his position, he understands his teammates’ positions, he understands what the defense is doing. Having guys around like that, that’s just about what a pro is supposed to do; you’re supposed to get the whole thing… It’s great for young guys to see that because that’s the level of knowledge that you should attain. You’re not going to have that as a rookie.”

On talented swingman Kevin Porter Jr.:

“His ballhandling is exceptional. That’s not a secret. His passing is really good, too. It did seem like he was miscast playing off the ball. So maybe we were a little more excited about him because we thought that we could maybe unlock a higher upside by moving him onto the ball. We might have been more excited about him than other teams. I’m not in their room, I don’t know what other teams were doing, so I have no idea. But we really liked him.”

Texas Notes: Wall, Thomas, White, Green, Carlisle

With John Wall‘s first season with the Rockets over, Kelly Iko and John Hollinger of The Athletic examined the initial impressions the veteran guard made in Houston, considering whether or not he fits into the team’s future long-term.

Wall was a perennial All-Star with the Wizards early in his career, but a series of injuries cost him significant portions of the past three seasons. As Iko and Hollinger write, Wall has to be commended for the mere fact that he returned to the court and played significant minutes, showing glimpses of his past explosiveness.

However, both scribes also noted that despite those glimpses, Wall appeared to be a fraction of the player he used to be, raising questions about his ability to even remain a starting point guard for the rest of his career. The hefty sum remaining on his contract will make it difficult to trade and therefore, it remains to be seen how the Rockets, or any team, would deploy him moving forward.

Check more news out of the NBA’s Texas squads:

  • Newly-signed Rockets forward Khyri Thomas contributed 16 points in his first game and expressed gratitude for the opportunity, tweets Mark Berman of FOX 26. “I’m never gonna take this opportunity for granted, whether it’s 10-day or a whole year,” he said. “I’m not trying to go out and be Michael Jordan. Just trying to fit in.”
  • Having established himself as a long-term keeper for the Spurs, Derrick White is now working on being a more vocal leader, as Spencer Davies of writes. “The front office and (head coach Gregg Popovich) have been on me (about) trying to be more of a leader,” White said. “It’s something that I’m continuing to develop in. The more confidence you have, the more you’re doing the right things, the more you can hold other people accountable. So it’s a constant thing that I’m developing, and hopefully I just keep getting better and better at it.”
  • The Spurs could conceivably make the play-in tournament without doing much winning as the regular season winds down. However, the team is looking to achieve more than just sneaking into the new postseason format, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News writes.
  • Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle is taking a nuanced view toward the play-in tournament, which Dallas could find itself participating in without a strong finish to the season. Carlisle said the goal should be to avoid the tournament altogether, but if it’s an option, it should be “embraced” and could be a valuable experience to a young team, tweets Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.
  • As the Mavericks have shown a willingness to be shifty and open-minded with their lineups, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News wonders if it’s time to give rookie Josh Green more playing time.

Southwest Notes: Wall, DeRozan, Pelicans, Porter

Rockets point guard John Wall, now waylaid indefinitely with a right hamstring strain, believes he is still a high-level player, telling reporters over the weekend that he feels he’s still “an All-Star in this league,” per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Wall appeared in 40 games for Houston, his first on-court action since December 26, 2018, and averaged 20.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, and 3.2 RPG, while connecting on 40.4% of his field goal looks.

“Nobody really thought he would be able to play at a level, probably, too close to what he’s playing right now,” head coach Stephen Silas said of Wall’s play this season. “He’s proving a lot of people wrong and proving a lot to a lot of people. I’m his biggest fan.”

Feigen adds in a separate story that Silas remains hopeful Wall can still return to the court for the Rockets before the end of the year.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan has been reliably solid on offense in late-game scenarios, writes Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. “I’m pretty sure San Antonio — as fans, the organization — appreciates him,” fellow Spurs guard Dejounte Murray noted of his veteran teammate, who will reach free agency this summer.
  • Despite 2019 No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson making his first All-Star team and Brandon Ingram, an All-Star in his own right last season, having another strong year, the Pelicans will almost certainly fall short of their playoff expectations for this season, as Scott Kushner of details. The Pelicans are currently four games behind the tenth-seeded Warriors for a crack at the play-in tournament, with just 11 games left to play for both teams.
  • It took multiple knee surgeries, but Grizzlies power forward Jontay Porter finally made his NBA debut last month, nearly three years after his last college game. Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal examines Porter’s journey to this point. The 21-year-old out of Missouri, younger brother to Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., has now appeared sparingly in eight games for Memphis.

Rockets Shut Down John Wall

7:30pm: Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said that Wall was diagnosed with a right hamstring strain after an MRI, Mark Berman of FOX26 tweets. The injury occurred against the Clippers on Friday.

6:11pm: The Rockets are shutting down John Wall for the rest of the season due to a hamstring injury, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Houston has 11 games remaining. The Rockets have been a disaster since getting off to an 11-10 start, winning just four of their last 40 games. Shutting down Wall should contribute to the free fall.

Naturally, the Rockets are in great position to get one of the top three picks in the draft. Their 15-46 record is the league’s worst, giving them a 14% chance at the top pick and 52.1% shot at a top-four selection. If Houston’s pick falls outside the top four, the Thunder would receive it, swapping it for Miami’s first-rounder.

Wall has appeared in 40 games and averaged 20.6 PPG and 6.9 APG in his first year with the Rockets. In his last outing, he racked up 27 points and 13 assists against the Clippers on Friday. The former No. 1 overall pick only played 32 games with Washington in 2018/19 and missed all of last season due to a ruptured Achilles.

The player he was traded for, Russell Westbrook, has been a triple-double machine for the Wizards in the second half of the season.

With several key rotation pieces sitting out, the Rockets will rely on unheralded players such as Armoni Brooks, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Anthony Lamb to finish out the season.

Southwest Notes: Dieng, Wall, Thomas, Williamson

Big man Gorgui Dieng is dealing with a right shoulder injury that will nag him the rest of the season but he’ll play through the pain, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News. Dieng banged his shoulder into Kings forward Chimezie Metu while making his Spurs debut late last month. Dieng signed with San Antonio after getting bought out and waived by Memphis. “It’s going to hurt throughout the whole season, but from this point on it cannot get worse,” Dieng said.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rockets guard John Wall will not play both ends of a back-to-back set for the remainder of the season, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle reports. “Moving forward, we are going to make sure we’re smart with his injury management, the wear that he has, all of these things,” head coach Stephen Silas said. Wall has started 33 games in his first season with Houston, averaging 20.5 PPG and 6.8 APG, after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon that sidelined him last season.
  • Isaiah Thomas is back in the NBA on a 10-day contract with the Pelicans and he claims his hip injuries are now a non-issue, Andrew Lopez of ESPN writes. “I’m 102%. I’m more than good,” Thomas said. “This is the best I ever felt since before I got injured. It’s not even a question no more.” In his first two appearances with New Orleans, Thomas has averaged 10.5 PPG and 2.5 APG in 22.o MPG.
  • Zion Williamson is increasingly serving as a point forward for the Pelicans and coach Stan Van Gundy believes that’s the role the All-Star will have going forward, according to William Guillory of The Athletic. Williamson piled up 37 points and eight assists against Philadelphia on Friday. “We want to get him more experience with that stuff going forward because I think that’s where his future is in this game. I really do,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve increased it throughout the year, giving him more and more opportunities. We’d like to get him more moving forward.”

Rockets Notes: Olynyk, Stone, Wall, Brown

The Rockets are experimenting with Kelly Olynyk playing alongside Christian Wood before facing a decision on Olynyk this offseason, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Acquired from the Heat in the Victor Oladipo trade last month, Olynyk has a $12.5MM expiring contract. He has been playing well since coming to Houston and may be raising his value on the free agent market. Iko suggests the Rockets have a limited figure in mind to offer Olynyk and want to take a long look at how his game meshes with Wood’s.

“It seems like they’re getting better every game,” coach Stephen Silas said of his frontcourt combination. “They’re both getting their opportunities, obviously. … They’re starting to play well together and figure it out. There’s a lot I could tell them as far as where they need to be on the floor, but when you play five-out basketball, it’s hard to tell a guy where they should be all the time. They’re both two smart guys; they’re figuring it out. It’s a work in progress, but I like what I see so far.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • In a radio appearance today on SportsTalk 790, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone promised the organization will be “aggressive” on the trade and free agent markets this summer, but his goal remains to “build really smart,” relays Ben DuBose of USA Today’s RocketsWire. “We do think we can be competitive very quickly. We would hope to field a much more competitive team next year,” Stone said. “But in terms of how long the rebuild takes, a lot of that depends on how long it takes us to acquire a player or two who have the ability to be truly elite. Maybe we even have one or two of those guys on our roster. But it’s not a one-day process.”
  • John Wall returned to the court tonight after missing the past four games with hip, hamstring and knee issues, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Silas said Wall’s minutes will be limited, but he didn’t provide a specific number.
  • Sterling Brown has earned Silas’ faith in any role, Feigen writes in a full story. Brown signed a one-year deal in the offseason and will be back on the market this summer. “I trust Sterling as a starter (or) coming off the bench,” Silas said. “He’s been super, super consistent for us this season. Him as a starter, him coming off the bench, he’s very steady.”

Buyout Rumors: Drummond, Porter, Wall, Ellington, Nuggets

The buyout market for Andre Drummond is expected to center around the Lakers and Knicks, says Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link).

Reports earlier this week indicated that executives around the NBA widely view the Lakers as the favorites to land Drummond, given the team’s ability to offer him an immediate role and an opportunity to compete for a title.

However, the Knicks are an interesting wild card, since their leftover cap room would allow them to offer Drummond a multiyear contract worth eight figures annually without having to wait until the summer.

Drummond’s buyout agreement with Cleveland is in the works, while LaMarcus Aldridge‘s with the Spurs is already a done deal. Here are a few more notes and rumors on the buyout market:

  • Multiple teams are keeping an eye on Otto Porter as a potential buyout candidate following the trade that will send him from Chicago to Orlando, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). However, the Magic‘s plan for now is to hang onto Porter, a source tells Haynes.
  • The Rockets and John Wall aren’t discussing a buyout, league sources tell Haynes (Twitter link). Wall has two years and $91.6MM left on his contract after this season, so it would’ve been a shock if the two sides were already looking at a possible buyout.
  • After retaining Wayne Ellington through the trade deadline, the Pistons have no plans to buy out the veteran sharpshooter, says Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press (Twitter link).
  • Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter link) expects the Nuggets to take a long look at the buyout market, especially if an appealing shooting guard becomes available.

Southwest Rumors: Aldridge, DeRozan, Tucker, Wall, Bledsoe

While a number of teams around the NBA may be hoping LaMarcus Aldridge reaches the buyout market, all indications for now are that the Spurs will be able to make a trade, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Sources tell Amick that general managers inquiring on Aldridge have been told that five teams are “firmly in the mix.”

As Aldridge and the Spurs prepare to part ways, the team’s other former All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, remains a focal point of the team’s offensive attack, having averaged 20.3 points and 7.3 assists per game this season. San Antonio isn’t actively seeking a DeRozan trade, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. However, Haynes says that could change if the two sides don’t agree to an in-season extension before the trade deadline. Currently, no extension negotiations are active, Haynes adds.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • A source with knowledge of the Rockets‘ talks tells Sam Amick of The Athletic that about 70% of the league has inquired on P.J. Tucker. The Nuggets, who are seeking a forward capable of guarding multiple positions, are no longer believed to be in the mix for Tucker, since the asking price is so high — Amick says Houston has sought a young impact player and a first-round pick. The club would be doing well to acquire one or the other for the 35-year-old.
  • Rockets guard John Wall, who recently suffered a left knee contusion, is expected to have that knee scoped later this year, league sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Wall should be able to return soon from the contusion, but will have to undergo the scope eventually, says Haynes, noting that the veteran has previously undergone surgery on that knee.
  • According to Amick, Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe is thought to be “very available,” but interest has been minimal so far. Bledsoe’s contract, which pays him $16.9MM this season and $18.1MM next year, will be an obstacle.

Southwest Notes: Porter, Grizzlies, McLemore, Doncic, Porzingis

With John Wall out due to a left knee contusion and Eric Gordon sidelined for four-to-six weeks, Kevin Porter Jr. will get more playing time than expected, starting with his Rockets debut on Friday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. Porter was recalled from the G League last weekend.

The second-year swingman, who was acquired from the Cavaliers in January, lit up the G League. He averaged 24.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 15 games. “He will have the ball in his hands, he will initiate plays, he will be off the ball a little bit,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said.

We have more on the Southwest Division:

  • The Grizzlies don’t have a glaring need heading toward the trade deadline but they could use more star power, according to Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian. Getting that star isn’t an easy proposition, though they have enough assets to pull off such a deal. They could also consider dealing two or three good players for one better one, even if that player isn’t quite an All-Star, Herrington adds.
  • Rockets guard Ben McLemore is drawing interest from teams looking to add backcourt depth, Kelly Iko of The Athletic tweets. McLemore, 28, had one of the better years of his career last season, averaging 10.1 PPG and shooting 40% from deep in 71 games. He’s averaging 6.4 PPG in 15.7 MPG this year and his shot has been off (30.9% on threes). McLemore is the final year of a very movable contract ($2.28MM).
  • Mavericks stars Luka Dončić (right ankle) and Kristaps Porzingis (right knee) sat out Thursday’s game in the second end of a back-to-back. That won’t be the last time they’ll get nights off for injury recovery, coach Rick Carlisle told Eddie Sefko of the team’s website and other media members. “There will be more of these along the way,” he said.

P.J. Tucker Away From Rockets, Expected To Be Traded

Rockets forward P.J. Tucker is away from the team and there’s a belief that he has likely played his last game with Houston, head coach Stephen Silas said after Thursday’s game in Sacramento, his club’s 14th straight loss.

“P.J.’s not with the team,” Silas said (video link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston). “He traveled here (to Sacramento), but is traveling back to Houston (instead of accompanying the team to Utah). We’re going to try to figure out something that works for him and works for us, in terms of him not being on the team anymore.

“I was under the assumption that he was going to be playing tonight, and he didn’t play. And that was disappointing. But it’s no secret that it’s been a rough year. He’s been professional… But at this point we’re going to do what’s best for the group and what’s best for P.J., and that’s probably not having him here.”

Prior to Silas’ post-game presser, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon had reported that Tucker, who is “increasingly frustrated” about not having been traded to a contending team, was a healthy scratch and that there was uncertainty about whether he’d return to the lineup at all. Silas essentially confirmed that report after the game, suggesting that both sides are on board with the divorce.

“He decided he was just not really with it, and we decided that’s a good idea — let’s move on,” Silas said, explaining why Tucker didn’t practice with the team on Wednesday and didn’t play vs. the Kings on Thursday (video link via Berman).

Unlike other players that have been pulled from their teams’ lineups in recent weeks, such as Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Tucker has a very manageable expiring salary, worth just under $8MM. As such, it shouldn’t be too tricky to find a taker for him, despite the fact that he’s having a down year.

While he’s still a solid defender, the 35-year-old isn’t contributing much on offense this season, averaging a career-low 4.4 PPG with a .314 3PT% in 32 games (30.0 MPG). Tucker believes joining a contender would allow him to display his value in ways he hasn’t been able to on the struggling and rebuilding Rockets, a person familiar with his thinking told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

According to Woj and MacMahon, the Rockets have engaged in several trade discussions with teams about Tucker in recent weeks, including the Bucks, Lakers, Heat, and Nets. The Sixers, Jazz, Nuggets, and Timberwolves have also been cited as clubs with potential interest in the veteran forward, as Houston seeks a young, productive rotation player.

Sources tell ESPN that the Rockets thought they were in position to sign Tucker to an extension earlier in 2020/21, having offered $17MM ($10MM guaranteed) over two seasons. However, they balked when Tucker’s camp countered with a fully guaranteed two-year, $24MM deal.

The Tucker situation is the latest unfortunate development in what’s turning into a nightmare of a season for the Rockets, who already had to deal with a prolonged push from superstar James Harden to be traded.

Houston has slumped badly with Christian Wood out due to an ankle sprain, and the club’s injury situation has gone from bad to worse within the last couple days. As Feigen details, John Wall was hit on the side of his left knee in a scrimmage on Wednesday and was ruled out for Thursday’s game, while fellow guard Eric Gordon strained his groin vs. Sacramento and will undergo an MRI (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.