During Rafael Stone’s introductory press conference with the Houston Rockets, he expressed excitement and confidence about the general manager position that he was accepting, due in part to the presence of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Understandably so, as Harden has been a five-time MVP finalist and was coming off of a 2019-20 season in which he led the league in scoring for the third consecutive season, and Westbrook was coming off his most efficient season in year one of the Harden pairing.
Stone stated, “I’m inheriting this team, led by James and Russ, and it’s really unique. Not many people get this opportunity for the first time with these types of guys.” Stone elaborated further on Harden, stating, “For the last eight years or so our goal has been to win a championship because we had James Harden. We’ve still got James Harden and our goal is still to win a championship. And if you’ve got him you’re halfway there.”
Rafael Stone didn’t anticipate early Houston Rockets drama
Based on those comments and the moves that would follow that sent Westbrook to the Washington Wizards and Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, it seems clear that Stone didn’t exactly know the full picture of what he was walking into. If there was any doubt about that, Stone removed it on Sunday night by confirming that he didn’t anticipate that things would go the way they did in the beginning, while speaking on NBC Houston’s Texas Sports Nation.
“I would not have anticipated that things would unfold the way they did exactly. But it is what it is.
Really early on I told Stephen [Silas] that when I hired him I didn’t know that all of this was going to unfold the way it unfolded. I wanted to make sure that he knew that I didn’t know.”
Stone did about as well as anyone could have done, as he moved Westbrook for John Wall and a future first-round pick from Washington, which will certainly be valuable (although it’s a lottery-protected pick). Wall is currently averaging 17.8 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.9 rebounds, while shooting a career-best 81 percent from the charity stripe. In addition, Wall currently has his second-best true shooting percentage of his 10-year career.
Although Stone and the Rockets won the Westbrook trade, they pulled off a more impressive haul for Harden, netting four first-round draft picks, four pick swaps with the Brooklyn Nets, and two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo. The picks will be immensely valuable, and especially if Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant decide to bolt for free agency in 2022, which is possible, as they all hold a player option in that same year.
Although Stone didn’t know what he was walking into, he weathered the early storm on what figure to be the most pressing decisions of his tenure as the general manager of the Rockets, and could very well garner consideration for Executive of the Year (although it’s far too early to tell).
Stone stated that he has no regrets on taking the Rockets’ GM position, regardless of the drama that immediately awaited him. “At the end of the day, even if you had percent knowledge of what the future would hold, if you would have done it anyway then it is what it is. No regrets.”
As for the future, that appears to be in good hands for the franchise, thanks to Stone and the Houston Rockets’ front office.