Houston Rockets: Rafael Stone makes trades like Daryl Morey
One of Daryl Morey’s central tenants to running a franchise is to always be active in the trade market to find value. Whether it was securing rotation pieces to round out a roster or going all in for a star he always had an eye on the next piece to flush out a roster.
Rafael Stone learned well from his mentor and has already made three trades of note to build the Rockets’ roster of the present and the future. The first of these trades, him trading Russell Westbrook for John Wall and a protected first-round pick already is paying dividends for the franchise.
Houston Rockets: John Wall for Russell Westbrook
It is still early but the Rockets flipping John Wall for Russell Westbrook is shaping up to be an absolute win for the franchise. Has Wall been the All-NBA player he was in his prime? No, but when his performances are compared to Russell Westbrooks’, the trade looks far more promising for the Rockets than it does for the Washington Wizards.
Westbrook has been an absolute flop in the nation’s capital thus far and appears to be completely over the hill. The player that he was in his prime, as a game wrecking force, appears to be long gone and the Rockets cut bait at the right time.
Wall is younger and looks to be the more productive player going forward, which means Stone was able to flip a negative asset for one with more long-term value. The fact that he was able to snag a first-round pick as well makes the deal even sweeter.
Wall and Westbrook are both owed in excess of $130 million over the next three seasons, which means the franchise wasn’t able to get out of the staggering financial commitment that the two hold. However, trading the worst contract in the league for merely a bad one and snagging a draft pick as well has to be seen as a serious win for the Rockets.
Houston Rockets: the James Harden trade
The moment that James Harden made it known that he wanted a trade out of Houston it added an impossible task to Rafael Stone’s to-do list. Harden is one of the best players in the league and extracting fair value for him was always going to be a monumental task.
The Rockets were able to ship Harden out for the richest draft return in recent memory while adding Victor Oladipo plus Dante Exum and Ruduos Kurucs to the roster. The move not only bolsters the franchise’s cache of assets but also opens up a tremendous amount of financial flexibility this season and next.
It will likely take a decade to fully know who won the James Harden trade, but the deal that Stone struck gives the Rockets the ability to build through the draft or use the assets to land their star of the future. The move was always going to force the Rockets to take a step back in the short-term but it has opened up a world of possibilities for their future.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Victor Oladipo is a very talented player. His future might not lay in Houston but he can help the team win now, be traded for more assets, be extended in the offseason, or be let go to free up cap space.
For a team that is looking to rebuild a championship roster, none of these outcomes can be viewed as a negative. The Rockets didn’t win the James Harden trade in 2020, but by 2030 they could be the ones that make out as the victors.
Houston Rockets: The Kevin Porter Jr theft
Young, talented, and cheap players are the most valuable assets in the entirety of the NBA. The fact that Stone was able to land one in Kevin Porter Jr for a protected second-round pick is a move that surely made Daryl Morey crack a smile.
Second-round picks are the NBA equivalent of pennies and to use one to get a player that is cost controlled and full of upside is a fantastic low-cost move for a rebuilding franchise. If Porter never becomes much of anything it will have cost the Rockets next to nothing in terms of assets or salary.
Now, if Porter becomes even a serviceable NBA player then the Rockets will have made out like bandits. Porter is only under contract for a guaranteed total of $4.1 million for this season and next and has a $3.8 million team option for 2022-23.
Rafael Stone deserves credit for pouncing on a distressed asset at a time when the Rockets are beginning a rebuild. Trades like this are how teams get back into contention and should give Rockets fans optimism that Stone will be able to work the trade market to drag the franchise back into the forefront.
Next: An eye on flexibility