Following the Houston Rockets’ trade that dealt James Harden, Rockets GM Rafael Stone has drawn praise for nailing his biggest test to date.
Very few first-time general managers would envision walking into a situation like the one that awaited Rafael Stone, as the Houston Rockets had a laundry list of franchise-defining decisions that needed to be made. Granted, Stone isn’t the typical rookie executive, as he was with the Rockets for a longer period of time than his predecessor Daryl Morey, who was beloved by the Rockets’ fanbase.
Stone inherited a job that even Morey would envy, as he faced looming decisions on two All-NBA players who didn’t want anything to do with the franchise, not to mention the decision on hiring a head coach and rounding out the roster. As we now know, Stone traded Russell Westbrook for John Wall, hired Stephen Silas to be the head coach, and rounded out the roster with players that weren’t exactly highly coveted in Sterling Brown, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jae’Sean Tate, which have all been home runs.
Not to mention the signing of 25-year-old big man Christian Wood, who has the looks of an All-Star, as he’s currently averaging 23.2 points and 10.9 rebounds, which makes the $41 million deal the Rockets inked him to look like a major steal.
The biggest test Stone faced was the decision on James Harden, who became one of the league’s best players since joining the Rockets in 2012, and wanted the franchise to help him join a super-team in the Brooklyn Nets, who didn’t exactly have the best pieces in place to execute a deal. Stone fielded the market for Harden, which seemed to take a bit of a hit after Harden’s scorching start to the 2020-21 season, while also being forced to deal with the antics of a diva who had uncharacteristically soured his run with the franchise by trying to force his hand.
Stone and the Rockets made it known what their asking price was for Harden, which was a star player and a haul of draft picks, although such a request caused several teams to drop out of the race for Harden along the way, as they lacked the pieces to meet the Rockets’ demands. What also hurt the Rockets’ chances of getting what they wanted for Harden was the fact that he’s under contract through 2021-22, and he can exercise his player option and become an unrestricted free agent, which would prove to be a gamble for any team that wasn’t on Harden’s reported list of preferred destinations.
In the end, the Rockets ultimately got back what they wanted for Harden, as they acquired four first-round draft picks upon dealing Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, replacing the draft capital that was lost over the last several years, mainly in the Russell Westbrook trade. In addition, the Rockets landed two-time All-Star and former All-NBA star Victor Oladipo, which gave them the star they wanted.
After Stone landed the historic return for Harden, he immediately drew praise on Sirius XM’s morning show The Starting Lineup.
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