Kevin Porter

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.”

Health Updates: A. Davis, J. Brown, Rockets, Tate

Already playing without primary ball-handlers LeBron James and Dennis Schröder, the Lakers lost another one of their top scorers during Thursday’s loss to the Clippers, when Anthony Davis exited due to back spasms.

As Dave McMenamin of ESPN details, Davis left Thursday’s game in the first quarter and didn’t return. The Lakers’ All-Star big man also tweaked his right ankle, though he said his back injury was the issue that knocked him out of the game.

The Lakers have a crucial game on tap for Friday night in Portland — the two teams are tied in the standings for No. 6 in the West, and have split their two games so far this season. The winner of tonight’s game will earn the end-of-season tiebreaker and will be in great position to avoid the play-in tournament, so L.A. would love to have Davis available.

According to McMenamin, Davis said late on Thursday night that he anticipates being able to suit up against the Blazers in what he called “probably the biggest game” left on the schedule. He’s listed on the latest injury report as probable.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, who missed Wednesday’s game with a right ankle sprain, will also be out on Friday. However, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said during a radio appearance that he thinks Brown will be back for Sunday’s game vs. Miami (Twitter link via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston).
  • The Rockets have a whopping 13 players on their injury report for Friday’s contest in Milwaukee, writes Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle. Kevin Porter Jr. (ankle) and Avery Bradley (personal) are among nine players who have been ruled out. And, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle points out (via Twitter), the four players not on the injury report have made 10 combined NBA starts.
  • The Rockets did get one piece of good news today, as Feigen tweets that Jae’Sean Tate has cleared the health and safety protocols. Tate registered a false positive for COVID-19, followed by three negative tests. However, he’s still listed as questionable for Friday’s game due to a left knee contusion.

Southwest Notes: Bradley, Porter, Pelicans, Martin

Rockets reserve guard Avery Bradley is close to returning to the floor from a calf injury, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Bradley has missed the past two games for Houston, and four of the last five.

“I’ve just been dealing with this calf situation all season,” Bradley noted. “Unfortunately, it came back a little bit. I’m just trying to be smart and making sure I’m working hard each and every day so I can come back strong.”

The Heat signed Bradley to a two-year, $11.6MM deal during the 2020 offseason, though the second year is a team option. Injuries and COVID-19 have limited the 30-year-old to just 25 games combined for Miami and Houston this season.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Though recently-acquired Rockets swingman Kevin Porter Jr. enjoyed a career night against the Bucks on Thursday, head coach Stephen Silas is hopeful Porter can have more consistently effective scoring nights, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t really know if we have a true feel for how good he can be or not,” Silas observed. “I think if you take the game that he had against Minnesota (10 points on 2-of-12 shooting) and the game he had against Milwaukee, you don’t want to really focus on either. You want to focus somewhere in between. He had a poor game and then a great game. You can’t do that in an NBA season where you’re kind of going up and down, up and down with your emotions or your evaluations.”
  • As the Pelicans remain in the play-in tournament mix, Will Guillory of The Athletic assesses several important threads worth tracking in May. Key among these is the play of Brandon Ingram, who Guillory believes needs to improve his passing and defense to be a true long-term compliment to All-Star forward Zion Williamson. Guillory also hopes to see more of versatile guards Lonzo Ball and Kira Lewis Jr. in tandem on the floor.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle appraises the growth of athletic rookie wing Kenyon Martin Jr., the youngest Rockets player. Martin is all too aware of what he needs to improve going forward to achieve his full potential. “I know what I need to work on and I need to focus on to get ready for next season,” Martin said. “Making my shot more consistent… Being comfortable on the ball and defensively, just learning from watching film and picking it up on that side of the floor.” Martin is averaging 13.5 PPG on 53.8% shooting across his past four games.

Southwest Notes: Jackson, Cuban, Porter, Bilas

Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. has proven worthy of reclaiming his starting role with the club, writes Mark Giannotto of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“The plan was always for me to just get the rhythm with the guys that are out there,” Jackson said of his acclimation back onto the Grizzlies roster. “It doesn’t really matter what rotation it is because we have so many guys playing.”

“The big picture is we’re having a lot of dialogue about what our rotations are going to look like,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • With new Rockets wing Kevin Porter Jr. scoring a career-high 50 points against the Bucks in a 143-136 win, it’s become clear that head coach Stephen Silas feels confident in the promising 20-year-old, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I was just so proud of him,” Silas raved. “He’s been through quite a bit. To see him free and almost getting into the zone, … it was so fun to watch.” Porter registered his respect for his coach as well. “Really, he just gives me that confidence to go out there and play how I play, play how I’ve been playing all my life,” Porter said. “Once a coach gives you basically a green light and the keys, the sky’s the limit.”
  • Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban sat down for a conversation with Tim Cato of The Athletic to discuss the NBA’s new play-in tournament, the relationship between All-Star Dallas guard Luka Doncic and former All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis, and the team’s approach to building around its two most high-impact players.
  • Before ultimately hiring Daryl Morey as the Rockets‘ new general manager in 2007, former Houston owner Leslie Alexander apparently gave serious consideration to former player and current college analyst Jay Bilas for the position. Bilas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski during a recent interview on Woj’s podcast that the Rockets offered him the job, but that the two sides couldn’t agree to terms (hat tip to RealGM).

Rockets’ Kevin Porter Jr. Fined $50,000

Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. has been fined $50,000 for violating the NBA’s health and safety Protocols, the league announced in a press release.

Porter, who will turn 21 next week, violated these rules when he attended a club in Miami on April 19. The NBA’s protocols prohibit players and staff from attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people, along with entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments.

The $50K fine is in line with what other players have received this season for protocol violations, though losing $50K will be more meaningful for Porter than for violators like James Harden and Kyrie Irving. The second-year Houston wing is making just $1.72MM this season, a fraction of what Harden and Irving are earning.

Porter has served as a key cog in the Rockets’ rotation this season, averaging 15.2 points, 6.2 assists and 31.8 minutes in 22 games (19 starts).

Sterling Brown, who was assaulted and severely injured in the incident, will not be fined, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. The NBA considers its investigation closed unless new information arises, Stein adds (via Twitter).

Health Updates: Rockets, Nance, Cavs, Hachimura, Clifford

After missing the Rockets‘ last three games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, second-year wing Kevin Porter Jr. has rejoined the team and will be ready to play on Tuesday, head coach Stephen Silas said today (Twitter link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston).

Rockets big man Christian Wood, who missed Saturday’s game with a minor ankle injury, is also in position to return on Tuesday, Silas said (Twitter link via Berman). The team should get further reinforcements prior to the end of the season, according to Silas, who expressed optimism that D.J. Augustin (ankle), Sterling Brown (knee), and Eric Gordon (groin) will also be back in the coming weeks.

Here are a few more health-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., who injured his right thumb on Sunday, has been diagnosed with a fracture in that thumb, according to a team press release. Nance has been ruled out for Monday’s game vs. Toronto and will be re-evaluated daily as he undergoes treatment and rehab. Sources tell Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com that Nance will probably miss at least a week or two. With less than three weeks left in the regular season, there’s no guarantee we’ll see him again in 2020/21.
  • Within the same release, the Cavaliers provided updates on several more players, announcing that Matthew Dellavedova (neck strain), Isaiah Hartenstein (concussion symptoms), and Lamar Stevens (concussion symptoms) have also hit the injured list and will miss tonight’s game.
  • Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (knee) is set to return on Monday after missing the last four games, the team announced (via Twitter).
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who registered a positive COVID-19 test, will remain out for Monday’s game vs. the Lakers, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, who tweets that Tyrone Corbin will once again act as the club’s interim head coach. Clifford continues to be asymptomatic, Robbins notes.

Rockets Notes: Brown, Porter, Silas, House

The incident in which Rockets guard Sterling Brown was assaulted in Miami was more serious than first reported and could get several players in trouble for violating the league’s health and safety protocols, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko and Shams Charania report. Brown was beaten up by several assailants and was hit over the head with a bottle, leaving him woozy. The assault occurred after Brown after he entered the wrong “sprinter van” while exiting a strip club.

Brown required stitching in multiple areas for his facial injuries and underwent several tests. The team initially feared he might be in critical condition.

Five or more Rockets went to the strip club early Monday, which would violate NBA protocols that prohibit players from going to bars, lounges or clubs. The league has opened up an investigation into the incident.

There’s more on the Rockets:

  • Kevin Porter Jr. stepped in to protect Brown during the incident and suffered minor injuries, Charania tweets. Porter won’t be able to play until Sunday, as he has been placed on the NBA’s health and safety protocols list.
  • The altercation is the latest off-court distraction that first-year coach Stephen Silas has dealt with this season. He says it comes with the territory, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets“I’m dealing as well as I can,” he said. “It’s not an easy situation, but that’s the job. That’s what I’m here for. My job is to lead us through these choppy waters.”
  • There’s still no timetable for Danuel House‘s return from a sprained right ankle, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. He suffered the injury on April 5. “We’re doing a good job of rehabbing and taking our time and making sure it is handled in the right way,” House said. “The medical staff hasn’t really given me a precise date. I’m just going by rehabilitation and movements day-by-day until they give me the OK.”

Rockets Notes: Tanking, Porter Jr., Bradley, Olynyk

Rockets head coach Stephen Silas bristles at the notion that the team should tank the rest of the way and improve its odds in a top-heavy lottery, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “We’re trying to win every single game,” he said. “I think you see this with the disappointment that our guys have, with the fight that they have, my reaction to games. I don’t even know if that needs to be squashed or not. It’s a non-issue.”

GM Rafael Stone said this week that the Rockets don’t have to worry about their lottery position because of their stockpile of draft picks. However, the team will have to swap its pick (likely with the Heat’s selection) if it falls outside of the top four.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Kevin Porter Jr. has the offensive skills and athleticism to be a major component on offense, and he could also be a difference-maker defensively, as described in another Feigen story. Porter made a key block in a victory over Dallas on Wednesday. “He takes pride in it,” center Christian Wood said. “He’s a young, tremendous player on both sides of the floor. He can do it. He just has to keep that up and we’re going to be great.” 
  • Guard Avery Bradley has missed quite a few games in recent seasons but he still feels he has no peer when it comes to defense, Feigen writes. “I know that’s going to be one of my roles here,” said Bradley, acquired from Miami in the Victor Oladipo deadline deal. “I’m always going to embrace that. I know defensively, there’s no one in the NBA who can do what I can do.” The team holds a $5.9MM option on Bradley’s contract next season.
  • Kelly Olynyk has been a pleasant surprise since being traded from the Heat in the Oladipo swap (17.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 3.0 APG) and The Athletic’s Kelly Iko explores what Olynyk may command in free agency. Iko speculates that Houston, which now holds his Bird Rights, would re-sign him if Olynyk’s price tag doesn’t exceed $11MM annually.

Southwest Notes: Ball, Mavericks, Porter, Dieng

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball expressed his excitement to remain in New Orleans beyond the trade deadline and his enthusiasm for the club’s trajectory beyond this season, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

“I’m just comfortable here,” Ball said of the Pelicans. “I also love playing with [Zion Williamson] and [Brandon Ingram]. We have a lot of young guys. I think we can be good in the time coming.” The point guard, selected with the second pick in 2017, will be a restricted free agent this summer.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein and point guard Tyrell Terry remain indefinitely away from the club, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News tweets. Cauley-Stein is still in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, while Terry has been absent due to personal reasons for the past two weeks. “We don’t have timetables,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ll let you [reporters] know when we know something. Other than that, there’s not much we can talk about.”
  • After trading away shooting guard Victor Oladipo, the 13-34 Rockets have clearly embraced their rebuild. In a happy surprise, 20-year-old new acquisition Kevin Porter Jr.‘s development has proven to be a bright spot just four games into his Houston tenure, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “He’s done everything that we need him to do,” head coach Stephen Silas said. “We have a lot of trust in him. There’s going to be ups and downs and conversations to be had just like every other player, but my door is always open and there’s a support system that can help him be successful on and off the floor.”
  • Newly-signed Spurs center Gorgui Dieng sprained his shoulder during his San Antonio debut and will miss tonight’s contest against the Hawks, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. Head coach Gregg Popovich speculated that, while there was fortunately no structural damage to the shoulder, the big man will miss at least a week, per Orsborn (Twitter link). “I am just going to make a guess, which is probably not wise, but it’s pretty much going to be on pain tolerance,” Popovich said. “I think it’s going to be another good week before he is able to use that.”

Southwest Notes: Ball, Thornwell, Rockets, Spurs

As of Wednesday, Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball seemed more likely than not to be traded this week. But Thursday’s deadline came and went without a Ball deal, and the former No. 2 overall pick is now on track to reach restricted free agency with New Orleans later this year.

In the view of Will Guillory of The Athletic, the Pelicans made the right move by hanging onto Ball, who has noticeably improved since joining the team two years ago and complements New Orleans’ star forwards (Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram) well. Guillory suggests there were “legitimate” offers on the table, with the Hawks, Knicks, and and Bulls among the teams in the mix, but the Pels ultimately opted to take their chances with the point guard in restricted free agency.

Ball’s free agency will provide its own set of challenges, particularly since the Pelicans also want to retain RFA-to-be Josh Hart and may have to move off Steven Adams‘ or Eric Bledsoe‘s contract to re-sign both Ball and Hart and avoid the tax. An aggressive offer sheet for Ball from a rival suitor could also force New Orleans into a tough decision. But Guillory believes there would be a trade market for Ball down the road even if his next contract is worth a little more than the Pelicans would like.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • After signing Sindarius Thornwell to a pair of 10-day contracts, the Pelicans had been considering a rest-of-season deal for the veteran guard. If that happens though, it’ll have to be a little later this spring. As Andrew Lopez of ESPN notes (via Twitter), New Orleans moved so close to the tax line following its deadline-day trade that a rest-of-season signing at this point would push team salary over that threshold.
  • Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle explains the thinking behind the Rockets‘ decision to trade Victor Oladipo to Miami for a relatively modest return. As Feigen details, Oladipo’s days in Houston were likely numbered if the Rockets had hung onto him through the deadline, and the team wanted to open up more minutes for Kevin Porter alongside John Wall, so the front office opted to take the best offer available for Oladipo on Thursday.
  • With several veterans on expiring contracts, the Spurs were in position to shake up their roster at the trade deadline. However, as is typically the case in San Antonio during the season, the team opted to stand relatively pat instead, making just one small financially motivated move, acquiring Marquese Chriss and cash from Golden State. Noting that the Chriss trade was the Spurs’ first deadline deal since 2014, Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News examines the club’s decision to once again remain quiet at the deadline.