It’s trade now set in Stone
GM: Moving Harden brings flexible future
If the signature move of Daryl Morey’s tenure as Rockets general manager was landing James Harden, the deal that most marks the start of Rafael Stone’s stewardship of the franchise is, for now, trading Harden away.
That, he hopes, will soon change.
Stone believes he is well armed to make subsequent moves to return to contender status while hoping some of the players he has already added — Christian Wood, John Wall and Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the Harden deal — will help achieve that goal.
But in his first public comments since completing the trade of Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, Stone spoke of the building still to come, citing the value of the four first-round picks and four pick swaps, trying to use the $10.65 million trade exception and the fit of Oladipo for positioning the Rockets to retool.
Though Stone would not discuss anything related to other offers for Harden, including one from the 76ers that could have included All-NBA guard Ben Sim
mons, he indicated the Nets’ offer was his choice because of the haul of firstround picks and pick swaps.
“What’s super exciting about this deal is it gives us flexibility,” Stone said. “In the NBA, picks, especially high picks, are the best currency. Everybody likes them. Everybody values them. So that was great. Organizationally, it gave us flexibility to do different types of deals as they come up this year, next year, whatever.
“Then we were able to get Victor Oladipo as part of it, along with Rodi (Kurucs) and Dante (Exum). But Victor is a guy we’re really excited about. We think he’s very talented. That’s not insignificant from our perspective.”
Draft picks spread over seven seasons, though with a timetable that gives the Rockets a better chance of their becoming “high picks,” do not bring immediate help. The flexibility would come if any are moved in future deals.
Oladipo, expected to make his Rockets debut Monday in Chicago, is in the final season of his contract. But Stone believes he can be a long-term piece.
“I think it’s (about) fit for him, for us, for everybody,” Stone said. “But your hope is that it’s a perfect marriage. He’s an extremely talented player. He’s a twoway player. He’s played on an extraordinarily high level. He obviously took a significant injury. He’s back. He’s already really, really good. In his own mind and in ours, there’s still room to grow, which is really exciting.
“For him and for us, this is a really exciting time where we get to see how it works out. And hopefully, it just works out gangbusters, and we take it from there.”
Dealing Harden represented the end of an era. Stone said the former MVP’s comments critical of the Rockets after the second of consecutive blowout losses to the Lakers last week had no impact on the efforts to trade him, though the GM could not speak for the Nets or any other team pursuing a trade.
He said he was not “delaying” a decision on a trade offer in the hopes Harden would come around to preferring to remain and that the Rockets “were engaged in the process until the day we did the deal.”
Harden said he reached the decision to request a trade soon after the Rockets were eliminated in last season’s second playoff round, a conclusion he said was solidified
by the departures of coach Mike D’Antoni and Morey.
Stone said the stress of the “the bubble experience” could have contributed to Harden’s decision. Whether Harden failed to give him, coach Stephen Silas, Wood or Wall a fair chance or not, Stone said, “We’re personally on good terms and very good terms with the organization.
“James is a great player, full stop, period. And the eight years he was here, his work ethic was incredible. The flip side is our goal remains unchanged. We are well-positioned to develop something really special. I do think the flexibility we have organizationally is really interesting, and hopefully, we can do really, really good things with it. And I do like the players we have on our team right now.”
After years in which the Rockets considered them
selves championship contenders, they hold the longest active streak of seasons in the playoffs, spanning the entirety of Harden’s tenure. In describing the team’s goals, Stone did not mention an immediate championship run, instead saying the Rockets want “to be extremely competitive.”
“Our goal is to compete and put a fun team on the court that really gets after it,” Stone said. “Internally, we’re very excited about this group and to see once they’ve had a chance to get together and get to know each other, to play together, to see what they can do.
“We’re going to be a team that plays a really fun style. We’re going play with a lot of pace that’ll be open. We’re going to really, really defend and get after it on that end. That’s the identity we’re going to build.”