HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610)- When Rafael Stone spoke to other executives from around the NBA over the course of the season no one brought up his team’s lousy record because they understood why it was lousy.
“Part of it is because they are being nice to me,” Stone joked Tuesday morning. “No one says, ‘you guys are horrible this year’, they’re saying, ‘Oh my God! I’ve never seen someone take injuries like you took this year!’”
Stone’s first year as Rockets general manager ended with a league worst 17-55 record that saw a complete remake of a roster that had advanced past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs five of the last six years. Due to trades and injuries the team that took the floor to end the season on Sunday in Atlanta looked nothing like the team that opened it in Portland on December 26. Only Jae’Sean Tate played in both games. It is that reason why Stone believes the Rockets can be competitive quicker than most teams that finish a season with the league’s worst record.
“We've kind of abandoned the strategy of just intentionally trying to be bad for five-to-ten years, or whatever it takes,” Stone said. “We’re not trying to do that. We’re trying to compete.”
There is a belief inside Toyota Center if the Rockets can build on the core already in-house that includes Tate, Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, K.J. Martin, Eric Gordon and John Wall , they aren’t far away from approaching where the team had been during the James Harden era.
“All these guys are versatile and they can defend multiple positions and they can both shoot and attack close outs, so we're not pigeon-holed into what types of players I think we bring in, so the result is we want really, really talented guys, so that we can be as competitive as quickly as possible.
“It is super weird because when you have a team that had a record like ours you can be like, that team has no talent, but we do have talented basketball players.”
The players mentioned by Stone are all under contract for at least the next two seasons. The Rockets will have bird rights on Kelly Olynyk, who averaged 19 points in 27 games after he was acquired in a trade from the Miami Heat. The Rockets are also slated to have three first round picks in July’s draft, with one potentially falling in the top four. Rockets head coach Stephen Silas says he’ll be involved in the offseason planning but trusts Stone and his staff to do what is best.
“I’m just gonna be someone to bounce things off of, but as you’ve seen, Rafael has a great eye for talent and what fits and my job is basically not to mess that up.”
The Rockets spent the last eight years pulling out all the stops in the pursuit of winning a championship. They always knew the bill for that chase would come due, now it’s Rafael Stone’s job to build the roster back up.
“I promise you we’ll be aggressive. I promise we won't be outworked. We will do our homework on everyone, and then we'll try and make it work, and and we'll do the best we can.”