Rafael Stone

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).

Southwest Notes: Stone, Rockets Draft, Van Gundy, Grizzlies Pick

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone is being coy with how he’ll approach the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and even hinted he’d be open to trading it, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. However, Stone does seem excited about adding a cornerstone to his roster. “The goal is to find a star player,” he said. “When you bring in young players especially, you’re really looking for star potential. I wouldn’t use the word ‘expect.’ I don’t want to put that pressure on a player. I do think we’re likely to get somebody really, really talented if we pick the pick.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Unless the Pistons do something surprising, Cade Cunningham will be off the board when the Rockets make their first of three first-round picks. Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs are the top candidates to be the No. 2 pick and Evan Young of the Houston Chronicle breaks down those players.
  • Stan Van Gundy was one-and-done as the Pelicans‘ head coach, while Tom Thibodeau was named Coach of the Year in his first season with the Knicks. The fact that the Knicks’ top players bought in to Thibodeau’s style and schemes while the Pelicans’ young core didn’t do the same with their veteran coach led to Van Gundy’s demise, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. The Knicks also had more experienced players on their roster than the Pelicans, another reason why Van Gundy failed and Thibodeau thrived.
  • Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and Oregon wing Chris Duarte are among the players the Grizzlies could target with the No. 17 overall pick, Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. Barnes takes a look at five players who might be a fit with the current roster.

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.”

Rockets Notes: Silas, Offseason, Stone, Sheirr

Rockets coach Stephen Silas dealt with a pandemic and frequent roster churn during his inaugural season as an NBA head coach. Kelly Iko of The Athletic details how Silas handled coaching a team that suddenly found itself shifting into rebuild mode midway through the 2020/21 season, and what he’s expecting out of the club moving forward.

“I’m definitely encouraged,” Silas said of the team’s future prospects. “It was a tough year for sure but going into next year I’ll be a better coach than when I first came in the door. We’ll have dealt with a lot of things that I haven’t dealt with before. To be discouraged isn’t even in the realm of things.”

Silas intends to utilize standout young guard Kevin Porter Jr. more at the point next season. Silas appears excited to explore the abilities of center Christian Wood, who looked promising when healthy during the first season of the three-year, $41MM contract he inked in the 2020 offseason.

There’s more out of Houston:

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle takes a look at what could be a productive offseason for the Rockets. Feigen appears optimistic that Kevin Porter Jr., and rookies Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate could serve as intriguing players if they continue to develop along the trajectory that Houston management is anticipating.
  • Rockets team president Rafael Stone discussed the team’s ongoing rebuild and its offseason, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. It appears Stone is opening to trading future draft equity if it can yield team improvement. “For sure, draft picks are at least as valuable as trade assets as they are as picks,” Stone said, though he tempered that note by painting a long-term perspective. “We’re really committed to building something to give us a chance to win a championship. We’re not packaging a bunch of picks to barely make the playoffs for a year or two, not at all. We’re trying to build something sustainable and with players that will be good now and great later.” 
  • The Rockets have promoted Gretchen Sheirr as their new president of business operations, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Sheirr will enter her 21st season with the club next season, having started as an account executive before eventually becoming the team’s CRO, then COO.

Tilman Fertitta Says He’s Excited About Rockets’ Future

The Rockets have lost an incredible 43 of their last 48 games, will finish the season with the NBA’s worst record, and will only have a 52.1% chance to keep their first-round pick, which is top-four protected. However, team owner Tilman Fertitta tells ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he remains bullish on the future of the franchise.

“I never thought I could feel this good after winning only 16 games,” Fertitta said of his 16-53 club. “I never thought I could feel this good when I’ve been so upset about losing. But when I look at all the draft picks that we have and the future, I’m just happy. I know it’s unusual to feel this good with your coach (Stephen Silas) and your general manager (Rafael Stone), but I do.”

If the Rockets’ 2021 first-round pick falls outside of the top four, they’ll have to send it to the Thunder in exchange for Miami’s first-round selection. Houston also owes two more future first-rounders to Oklahoma City, in 2024 (top-four protected) and 2026 (top-four protected).

However, the Rockets have acquired several other first-round picks and swaps in various trades, including the James Harden blockbuster — they’ll have Portland’s and Brooklyn’s first-round picks this year, as well as first-rounders from the Nets, Pistons, Wizards, and Bucks in future drafts. Fertitta expressed a willingness to be patient waiting for those extra selections to pay dividends.

“It could be 2027 that we get a top-five pick that ends up being the next greatest player,” Fertitta told MacMahon. “We don’t know, but my people have shown all they’ve done so far is made the right decision, and I’m proud of all of them. I’m proud of the basketball ops people and I’m proud of Silas, because they keep showing me they’re doing the right things.”

Fertitta specifically credited Stone for the acquisitions of Christian Wood and young building blocks like Kevin Porter and Kenyon Martin Jr. He also praised Silas for the work he has done dealing with adversity this season and developing those young players. The Rockets’ owner added that he doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind for the club becoming a legit contender again.

“I can tell you this: I’m going to be patient,” Fertitta told ESPN. “I know my basketball guys know what they’re doing. We’re not going to go do something stupid to try to get into the playoffs next year that then will prevent us from competing for a championship in a couple years. … I think we’ll be much better next year and we’ll be much better the following year and then we’ll be much better the following year.”

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.”

Rockets’ GM Doesn’t Regret Return In James Harden Trade

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.”

Southwest Notes: Lewis, Bey/Hinton, Stone, Porter

Rookie Pelicans point guard Kira Lewis Jr. has carved out further playing time with New Orleans, per Scott Kushner of the Times-Picayune. “He’s just so young,” head coach Stan Van Gundy said of the 19-year-old rookie, the No. 13 draft pick out of Alabama in 2020. “But he does so many good things. Trying to figure out how we throw him into that rotation is something we are definitely thinking about.”

Van Gundy expounded on his interest in exploring more time on the court for Lewis as the Pelicans’ 2020/21 season progresses: “Does that mean every single night? Does it mean 20 minutes a game? Does it mean 12 minutes a game? I can’t give you a definitive on that yet. But I do think I want him to play.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Two-way Mavericks rookies Tyler Bey and Nate Hinton have been sent to the NBA G League’s Long Island Nets to participate in the NBAGL 2021 season in Orlando, per an official team tweet.
  • Rockets GM Rafael Stone has exhibited an aptitude for being able to tinker with his roster quickly, Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle writes. Stone’s haul after trading away All-Star James Harden – led by wing Victor Oladipo – has impressed on the court. Houston is currently riding a six-game win streak to climb into the top eight teams within the competitive Western Conference.
  • The Grizzlies are sending forward Jontay Porter to the the club’s G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle, for the 2021 NBAGL season in Orlando, according to a team press release.

Texas Notes: New Rockets Backcourt, Doncic, McLemore, Stone

With the James Harden drama now in their rearview, the Rockets have a backcourt featuring two former All-Stars in John Wall and Victor Oladipo, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. That guard tandem, plus well-paid reserve Eric Gordon, will need to develop chemistry and coordinate how they divvy up shooting and ball-handling duties.

Feigen notes that Wall and Oladipo could be a better defensive pair than their predecessor duos of Harden and Russell Westbrook and Harden and Chris Paul, though injuries could be an impediment to that. Both Wall and Oladipo have lengthy injury histories, and Wall is currently out with knee issues.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic and longtime head coach Rick Carlisle will have to move past the former’s noticeable frustration that the latter did not employ an available timeout during a pivotal late-game possession in Dallas’s eventual 112-109 defeat to the Bucks last Friday, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN details.
  • Backup Rockets guard Ben McLemore realizes that expectations for Houston may be lower than they were with Harden, but contends that the team has more than enough to compete, per Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston (Twitter video link). “We got guys that are gonna fight, that’s gonna compete, that’s dogs,” McLemore said.
  • Rockets GM Rafael Stone discussed the new-look club during a virtual media conference call today, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Stone explained his interest in ultimately making a trade with the Nets for James Harden. “What’s super exciting about this deal is that it gives us flexibility,” Stone said. “In the NBA, picks are the best currency. Everybody likes them, everybody values them.” Stone also mentioned that the club “will aggressively be trying to use” the $10.6MM trade exception it acquired in the transaction ahead of the 2020/21 season’s trade deadline in late March.

Rockets Notes: Clemons, Wall, Cousins, Wood, Harden, JVG

A few of Chris ClemonsRockets teammates know exactly what the second-year guard is going through, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Like Clemons, who tore his Achilles tendon on Tuesday, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, and David Nwaba have all had to attempt to make their way back to full health after suffering a torn Achilles.

“I spoke with him last night after the game,” Cousins said. “My only message was just take your time. One thing I noticed with professional athletes and injuries, we love our craft, we love the game itself. Once you have tough off, you’re always itching to get back and play that game.

“… We’re so used to playing through pain. Sometimes, we feel like we’re in a good place when it’s not necessarily the case. My only message is take his time, get everything right, he has a lot of basketball left to play in his career.”

The only silver lining of the injury for Clemons is that he’ll now be assured of his $1.52MM salary for 2020/21 — it was previously non-guaranteed. The Rockets, who are up against a hard cap, figure to keep Clemons on their roster since they don’t currently have the flexibility to replace him with a free agent if they cut him.

As Bobby Marks of ESPN details (via Twitter), Houston could attempt to make room for another player by trading Clemons (along with a second-round pick) to another club. If the Rockets are uninterested in such a move, they’ll likely have to waive either Gerald Green or Bruno Caboclo before the regular season begins in order to stay below the hard cap.

Here’s more from out of Houston:

  • John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will sit out the Rockets’ preseason finale on Thursday vs. San Antonio, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The club is handling both players carefully, since they’re coming off major injuries. Meanwhile, Christian Wood – who missed Houston’s first three preseason contests with a sore left elbow – is considered questionable to play.
  • It’s a bit of a worrisome sign that James Harden said during his media session on Wednesday that he hasn’t had a conversation at all with new Rockets GM Rafael Stone, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Even if Harden remains dead-set on being traded, a deal of that magnitude will require some communication between the superstar guard and the Rockets’ head of basketball operations, Iko says.
  • Sources tell Marc Berman of The New York Post that Jeff Van Gundy probably could have had the Rockets’ head coaching job this offseason, but “was indifferent toward it.” Van Gundy was said to be owner Tilman Fertitta‘s top choice, though it seemed as if the team’s front office and players preferred other candidates. Either way, Van Gundy sounds happy with his current job, telling Berman that he’s  “real fortunate to be able to work at ESPN/ABC.”