Rafael Stone

Rockets Notes: Green, Stone, Sengun, Smith

Jalen Green made a positive impression during his time scrimmaging against Team USA in Las Vegas, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Green helped the Select Team pick up an early victory in the competitions, and Grant Hill, managing director of USA Basketball, liked what he saw from the Rockets‘ young guard.

“He played well,” Hill said. “He was one of the few guys that I had not seen in person. I obviously had seen him in highlights and on videos, even going back to high school. He’s dynamic. He’s explosive. He’s very confident.”

Green has experienced individual success during his first two NBA seasons, averaging 17.3 and 22.1 points per game, but the rebuilding Rockets have been among the NBA’s worst teams. Houston aggressively upgraded its roster this summer, and Hill sees a brighter future for Green and the organization.

“He’s had a couple of seasons to really understand what the NBA is, and that’s important,” Hill said. “I like the moves the Rockets made this offseason bringing in veteran guys, guys who have been around the league, guys who have had success — Fred (VanVleet) has been a champion — but can still play. You bring in coach (Ime) Udoka, who brings in a level of accountability and teaching. All of that, for a guy like Jalen, is a great chance for him to really grow. I think he’s ready and that team is ready to take a step this season.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • NBA teams don’t have full control over whether their players take part in international competitions, but Rockets general manager Rafael Stone is happy to see so many of his players involved, Feigen adds. Australia’s Jock Landale and Canada’s Dillon Brooks will both participate in the FIBA World Cup. “If we were in a position to have more control, it would be a very player-by-player thing,” Stone said. “This summer, I’m really happy for our guys. They’re at points in their careers the additional reps are very valuable. … I can see where teams have concerns. In our case this summer, we’re comfortable, and we’re encouraging those guys not just to play but to play great and come back as better players.”
  • Another Rockets player getting international experience is center Alperen Sengun, who is on Turkey’s roster for an Olympics pre-qualifying tournament that begins Saturday, per Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. The Turkish team will face Bulgaria, Iceland and Ukraine.
  • A survey conducted by Kelly Iko of The Athletic finds that fans are optimistic about the Rockets’ chances to improve and are expecting a breakout season from Jabari Smith Jr.

Rockets Notes: K. Young, Griffin, Culture, Free Agency

The Rockets‘ interview with Suns assistant Kevin Young for their head coaching position took place on Friday, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Houston followed up that meeting by interviewing Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday, Iko adds (via Twitter).

Young and Griffin are at least the third and fourth candidates known to have interviewed for the Rockets’ coaching vacancy. Frank Vogel and Ime Udoka also reportedly met with the team.

Kenny Atkinson, James Borrego, and Sam Cassell have been mentioned as candidates Houston plans to talk to, though there’s no indication those meetings have happened yet.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Speaking this week to the media, including Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required), general manager Rafael Stone strongly pushed back against criticism of the rebuilding Rockets’ culture. “We have not managed to turn that culture into wins at this point in time,” Stone said. “But culture — I would put our team up there with anybody in the NBA. We work really hard. People are very supportive of each other. They get along very well. They spent a ton of time together off the court. A lot of that is a function of their youth, which is always one of the reasons why we’ve struggled to win. It’s all interrelated. I’m willing to fight with anyone who will say that our culture, on this team, this year was challenged.”
  • Stone went on to speculate that there are people in the media who have a residual distaste for how Houston conducted business under Daryl Morey, including the unconventional way the front office built the roster and the organization’s deference to stars like James Harden. “I was part of these teams, so I don’t want to walk away from it,” said Stone, who was an assistant GM under Morey. “… Those teams were very successful. They did things in their own way. I think some people didn’t like the way they did them. One of the things that happened is complaints about the way those people did things are being conflated with us now, even though the only commonality is the Houston Rockets. The players, coaches, front office has changed hugely. That’s my perception.”
  • Iko teamed up with John Hollinger of The Athletic to take a closer look at the offseason decisions facing the Rockets. As The Athletic’s duo notes, Houston owes its top-four protected 2024 first-round pick to Oklahoma City, so the team may be motivated to use its cap room (approximately $60MM) to add win-now veteran help. In addition to Harden, Hollinger names Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent, Cameron Johnson, and Grant Williams as some of the free agents the Rockets could look into.

Rockets Notes: Martin, Stone, Rookies, Next Coach

Rockets small forward Kenyon Martin Jr. has endeared himself to Houston with his play this season. As we’ve previously noted, the team has a variety of options for how it can retain the 6’6″ swingman into next season.

The Rockets hold a $1.93MM team option on Martin for the 2023/24 season that they could opt to exercise, though that would put him on track for unrestricted free agency in 2024. Turning down the option would allow Houston to make him a restricted free agent this summer. Martin is also extension-eligible.

As Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required) writes, while the Rockets are weighing their various options, Martin is trying to focus only on what he can control.

“If there’s a conversation that happens between us, that’s the most that can happen,” Martin said. “There’s nothing I can really do to control that side of it. Whatever they want to do, whether it’s this year or next year, whatever it may be, that’s on them. I’m just here to play basketball and hope it happens for the future.”

“Obviously, it’s important to me, contract extension and stuff like that,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, the draft, a lot of stuff in the summer that goes into it. I can’t determine whether they’re going to … just wait until my fourth year is done. I’m just here to play and whether it’s this year or next year, I’m excited.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The future of Rockets general manager Rafael Stone may be on the line depending on how he performs during the 2023 offseason, according to Kelly Iko, Shams Charania, and Sam Amick of The Athletic. Stone will need to hire a new coach, draft well, and figure out how to use over $60MM in available cap space. “It could be a make or break summer for [Stone],” a source told The Athletic.
  • Rockets rookies Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, TyTy Washington Jr. had an intense first NBA season with Houston, writes Feigen in another piece. “Just the ups and downs of it — I don’t think anything prepares you for it,” Eason said. “You know it’s 82 games, so you’re not going to have a great night every night, whereas in college, there was a third of that. So you know, you could kind of dwell on your losses and things like that a little bit more.” Smith responded similarly when asked about his thoughts on what stood out from his first pro season. “Just the long grind, the ups and downs of the season,” Smith said. “The bad things, the quick turnarounds, how important it is to stay in the gym, really work on your craft, don’t take days off, just get better every day.”
  • Stone revealed that the next Rockets head coach will have the opportunity to select their own staff, Iko reports (via Twitter). “That’s not gonna be my decision,” Stone said. “I think it’s important that the new coach picks that.”

Texas Notes: Dieng, McDermott, Graham, Kleber, Stone

Spurs veterans Gorgui Dieng and Doug McDermott will be tasked with helping to ensure that San Antonio’s young players continue to grow as the year winds down, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News.

The team is currently mired in a 14-game losing streak en route to a prime lottery pick. McDonald writes that some of the coaching burden falls onto the team’s two most experienced players, McDermott and Dieng, who can operate as unofficial coaches on the floor.

How long both players remain on the roster beyond this season is anyone’s guess. Dieng, 33, is signed to a one-year minimum deal, and will be a free agent this summer. McDermott, 31, is the team’s highest-paid player, and is set to earn $13.8MM in the final season of his very tradable current deal, 2023/24.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • New Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham is still acclimating to his new environs, McDonald reports in another piece. After arriving in San Antonio by way of the Pelicans in a trade, he has yet to suit up for his new club in a home game. “I’m just trying to get adjusted,” Graham said. “I just packed enough to maintain for a couple of weeks… I’m just living out of a suitcase right now.”
  • Mavericks big man Maxi Kleber indicated to Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) that he expects he will miss at least Dallas’ next two games as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Previous reporting suggested Kleber was hoping to return by the end of February.
  • Rockets team president Rafael Stone sat done for an extensive discussion about the team’s rebuild with Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “When we came into (the rebuild), we didn’t really have talent on the roster,” Stone said. “We didn’t have any cap space, we didn’t have any draft picks. We now have been able to recoup our draft picks, we have more cap space this summer than anybody else and I think we have a very talented roster… We need to translate those things into a team that becomes competitive and hopefully starts winning and winning big over time. And that’s the challenge in front of us starting this summer, but continuing on.”

Rockets Notes: Porter, Stone, Christopher, Silas

Rockets starting point guard Kevin Porter Jr. continues to develop for a rebuilding Houston club, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Iko notes that Porter has developed right along with his head coach Stephen Silas, both of whom are in the midst of their third season with the team.

“We’ve really been on the same page this season when it comes to [Porter executing Silas’ offensive schemes],” Silas said. “A lot of it is his comfort with me, my comfort with him, comfort with his teammates. And it continues to grow as we go along.”

“From an emotional standpoint, he’s grown a lot from last year to this year,” starting Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green added. “He’s become more of a leader and a point guard — getting us involved and making sure everyone gets their shots. Being that person to take control of a game towards the end, too. He’s had a lot of growth.”

“Just me being out there finding my balance,” Porter told Iko, explaining how his instincts have improved. “[Knowing] when to take shots, when to facilitate, where guys are supposed to be at. Me just learning how to read the defense, I feel like I’ve been getting better at that. And it’s been much easier to get my guys the ball that way. Just reading the help defense and not so focused on who’s guarding me. But seeing on the second hand, help side defense, the low man, that’s what I’ve been paying attention to. And it’s been a lot easier making reads.”

There’s more out of H-Town:

  • Rockets general manager Rafael Stone is happy with Houston’s growth thus far this season, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Though the team’s development has yet to yield much of an uptick in wins, the club’s leading front office executive is positive about how his players have improved year-over-year. “It feels like we’re pretty on track,” Stone said. “We’ve seen a lot of good things. We’ve seen a lot of growth from a lot of different players. We’ve seen some team growth, too. Sitting here right now, at a really early stage, we feel comfortable that we’re talented and our guys are really hardworking, which is, from a macro perspective, our two largest goals. (Last season’s draft picks) are materially better basketball players this year than they were last year. I think that’s evident when you watch them. Their weaknesses are not as weak, and their strengths are stronger. They’re far from finished products. We’re really happy with all our young guys.”
  • Rockets rookie Josh Christopher was recently sent to the team’s G League club for in-game reps, having not been able to quite crack Houston’s rotation for the first quarter of the 2022/23 season. Head coach Stephen Silas applauded his play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, writes Feigen in a separate piece. “He needed some minutes he needed to get out there and play when he needed to get this confidence back and just let it flow a little bit,” Silas said. “He had a great game (Friday) night. But we talked a bunch of conversations about it, and we value him so much that for him to get out of rhythm and for him to get spot minutes here and there, it made sense for him to be able to go on back-to-back and play a couple games or so for the Vipers…  So, yeah, it’s not a demotion at all and he doesn’t see it as a demotion. But sometimes they can see it as a demotion. So, his perspective, his personality, everything about him is really good.” 
  • Rockets assistant John Lucas is set to step in tonight as acting head coach against the Bucks for Silas, reports Mark Berman of Fox Sports 26 Houston (Twitter link). As we wrote earlier, Silas’ father, former player and coach Paul Silas, has just passed away at age 79.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans Pick, Kidd, Rockets Draft, Dinwiddie

The Pelicans already have the look of perennial playoff contender and now they’re armed with the No. 8 pick. Who will they take? Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune takes a closer look at five potential targets, including Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Mavericks were fined $50K by the league for bench decorum violations during Game 7 at Phoenix, which baffled coach Jason Kidd, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. “I know about the fine. Just trying to figure out what we did wrong to get the fine,’ he said. “Who complained? It was a blowout, so I don’t think the fans complained.”
  • Who will the Rockets target with the No. 3 pick? GM Rafael Stone is more concerned about what a player can’t do than what he can do, as he told Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “You can only play five guys, and the league is moving towards less positionality. It’s fine to have players with redundant strengths,” Stone said. “I do think it’s hard if they have redundant weaknesses. And players aren’t perfect, you know, so you’re definitely going to have players with weaknesses. I think that is something that you have to be careful with.”
  • One of the reasons why the Mavericks have reached the Western Conference Finals is the mid-season acquisition of guard Spencer Dinwiddie in the Kristaps Porzingis deal with Washington. Luka Doncic doesn’t downplay its significance, Marc J. Spears of Andscape writes. “He is amazing with the ball,” Dončić said. “He can do a lot of things. He’s a baller. That’s the best way to describe him. We’re glad to have him.”

Rockets Notes: Schröder, Stone, Wood, Gordon

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone expressed optimism that newly acquired guard Dennis Schröder will fit well with the team, Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic tweets. Houston traded for the 28-year-old earlier this week.

“I think the style of basketball we play, we’re either the fastest or top 3-4 fastest in the NBA,” Stone said. “And he’s electric in the open court, and an above average defender. I think it’s gonna be a good fit, both ways.”

Schröder had been considered a possible buyout candidate following his trade from Boston to Houston, but Stone’s comments suggest that’s not the team’s plan. If the Rockets do choose to keep Schröder, he’d provide backcourt depth behind starting guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.

In 49 games this season, Schröder has averaged 14.4 points and 4.2 assists in 29.2 minutes per contest. He’s shot 44% from the floor and 35% from deep during those outings.

Here are some other notes from Houston:

  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic hosted a Q&A with veteran big man Christian Wood before the trade deadline, discussing the team’s rebuild, Wood’s individual growth and more. Wood has played in 52 of his team’s 55 games this season, averaging 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest.
  • Stone expressed confidence that Eric Gordon wants to be in Houston after not being moved in a deadline deal, Alykhan Bijani tweets. “Eric wants to be here. I feel really comfortable talking about that,” Stone said. The 33-year-old is set to make $19.6MM next season and holds a $20.1MM team option for the 2023/24 campaign, so he could be a trade candidate again in the offseason or at next year’s deadline.
  • Stone also discussed whether the team received trade offers for Wood and Gordon, explaining why he didn’t move either of the players. “We obviously didn’t receive an offer that we wanted to do more than we wanted to keep the guys. I think they’re important parts of this team,” Stone said as part of a larger quote, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26 (Twitter link).

Rockets Notes: Wood, Green, Stone, Sengun

Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com is the latest reporter to state that the Heat have been linked to Rockets big man Christian Wood, confirming that a framework involving Duncan Robinson has been discussed. However, Bulpett says people involved in the situation have downplayed the idea that any substantive progress was made.

One general manager who spoke to Bulpett suggested that Houston would want far more than Robinson in a deal with the Heat and expressed a belief that the Rockets’ asking price for Wood and other players has been too high.

“Houston’s really been overvaluing Wood and Eric Gordon,” the GM said. “They think they’re going to get back a major piece, but they’re unrealistic with their expectations. I’ve looked around the league at what they’re putting out there — and I know they have, too. And no one is willing to give up a cornerstone player.”

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Rockets rookie Jalen Green will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend later this month, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link). Green will be reportedly be going up against Juan Toscano-Anderson, Obi Toppin, and Cole Anthony.
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic conducted an extensive Q&A with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, discussing Stone’s experience since taking over as the head of basketball operations in 2020, Houston’s rebuilding process, the team’s plan for the trade deadline, and much more. Stone said he always wants to be aggressive but doesn’t feel compelled to be active in the next eight days if the right deal doesn’t materialize. “We do have a lot of picks out in the future, so there’s not some huge need that we have either on our current roster — or in terms of future assets — that we need to be aggressively pursuing,” Stone said. “Leading into this year, we were hoping, planning, tracking to be in the area where we’re at now. So, we’re not feeling any particular need to do X deal or Y deal.”
  • In a separate story for The Athletic, Iko and Danny Leroux chatted about the Rockets’ approach to the trade deadline and the John Wall situation.
  • Rockets head coach Stephen Silas didn’t like what he saw earlier this season when Christian Wood and rookie Alperen Sengun were on the court at the same time, which is why he hasn’t used that frontcourt combination lately, writes Rahat Huq of The Houston Chronicle. “It’s a tough position for (Sengun) because he’s playing behind one of our better players in Christian, and I don’t feel comfortable at this point playing Christian and Al-P together,” Silas said last week. “The numbers, the eye test have shown that those two together hasn’t been that great.”

Rockets Weighing Stephen Silas’ Future?

The Rockets are weighing the future of head coach Stephen Silas, sources with knowledge of the situation tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Fischer suggests Silas could become the next NBA head coach on the hot seat following Luke Walton‘s dismissal earlier this week.

Fischer’s report comes with a handful of caveats. Unlike Walton’s Kings, there were no playoff expectations for Silas’ Rockets this season. Additionally, staffers in Houston aren’t “waiting for this shoe drop” in the same way that team personnel in Sacramento were anticipating Walton’s exit. Still, Fischer says whispers have grown louder as of late about Silas’ job security — he has just one more year left on his contract after the 2021/22 season.

Silas’ primary goal for a Houston team without real playoff aspirations has been developing young players like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. Those youngsters have gotten off to slow starts in 2021/22, and Fischer says rival coaches characterize the team’s offense as “disorganized and undisciplined.”

The 1-16 Rockets have the NBA’s worst offensive rating, worst assist-to-turnover ratio, and highest turnover rate. Of course, those numbers may be more the byproduct of the young, inexperienced roster than of Silas’ coaching.

As Fischer points out, Houston didn’t initially hire Silas expecting him to oversee a full-fledged rebuild, but the team has gone in that direction over the last 12 months, opting to pass on promising young players in favor of future draft picks in January’s James Harden blockbuster. Some people around the league believe Silas has been put in an impossible position.

“(Silas) is genuinely one of the nicest people in the NBA. He actually cares about people,” one assistant general manager told Fischer. “To put him with a bunch of really young dudes who probably don’t care about anything but their numbers and playing time, he’s just not the right fit.”

Another Western Conference executive who spoke to Bleacher Report wondered what exactly Silas was supposed to do with this year’s roster.

Although there’s no indication that any head coaching change is imminent, Fischer hears from multiple sources that veteran assistant John Lucas II, who has a strong relationship with general manager Rafael Stone, would be the likely interim replacement if Silas is let go during the season.

According to Fischer, Stone is more hands-on than the average NBA general manager, having walked onto Houston’s practice court at one point to preach defensive philosophy. If he were to make a coaching change, the GM would likely want to continue to have the same level of input into on-court tactics and decisions that he does now.

Rockets Notes: Wall, Wood, Porter, Theis, Vaccines

The Rockets and John Wall mutually agreed earlier this month to hold him out of games and work together on finding a trade, but the veteran point guard believes he still has a role to play with the team off the court.

Wall reiterated several times during his Media Day availability today that his main priority is to serve as a veteran mentor to Houston’s young players, and also stated that he’s 100 percent healthy entering the new season (Twitter link via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle).

Wall, who isn’t sure which team he’d like to be traded to, told reporters on Monday, “My job is to be here with this team, stay healthy, and see what the future holds” (Twitter link via Kelly Iko of The Athletic).

General manager Rafael Stone and the Rockets’ front office are in lock-step with Wall, a stark contrast to the situation in Philadelphia. Stone says that the communication between the two sides has been great, stating, “In terms of our communication it’s been easy. The challenge was what works for everyone long term. It’s not like our communication ends today” (Twitter link via Iko).

When asked about the possibility of a buyout with Wall, Stone said he doesn’t expect that to happen anytime soon, if at all.

Organizationally we don’t have any interest in this at this time,” Stone said (Twitter link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston). “I don’t think that makes sense for John and I don’t think that makes sense for us. We’re gonna find things that make sense to both parties.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Forward/center Christian Wood, who was a borderline All-Star last season prior to injuring his ankle, says he’s fully recovered from the injury and is 100 percent healthy entering the season (Twitter via Kelly Iko).
  • Kevin Porter Jr., whom the Rockets acquired from the Cavaliers last season, is beyond grateful to the Rockets. This organization saved my life,” Porter told reporters today (Twitter link via Iko). “I needed a new change of scenery and they picked me up when I was down.” Porter went on to add that basketball wasn’t an escape outlet in Cleveland because he was depressed at the time, but coming to Houston represented a total 180 for the young player (Twitter link via Iko).
  • Free agent addition Daniel Theis appears optimistic about partnering with Wood in the Rockets’ frontcourt, expressing optimism that the two big men can play alongside one another and telling reporters that he wants to be the anchor of the team’s defense (Twitter link via Iko).
  • The Rockets are 100 percent vaccinated, Stone told reporters today (Twitter link via Iko).