It’s safe to say that the 2020-21 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Houston Rockets, as they currently sit 14th in the Western Conference, with a 13-35 record. The Rockets recently went on a 20-game losing streak and have lost five of their last six games since ending the streak.
Rockets newly-promoted general manager Rafael Stone faced the unenviable challenge of trading away Rockets franchise cornerstone James Harden, while seeking to get the best possible return to help the franchise rebuild for the future. Stone ultimately dealt Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, which was a kind gesture, as Harden was hoping to land in Brooklyn.
But Stone decided to pass on Caris LeVert, who the Nets had made available to bring in Harden, which has drawn criticism from those who cover the NBA on a national scale and from many within the fanbase. For some, the idea of passing on a 26-year-old who is viewed by many as a franchise cornerstone simply doesn’t make sense.
Why the Houston Rockets passed on Ben Simmons and Caris LeVert
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, who is one of the premier Houston Rockets sources, explained why the Rockets passed on LeVert on ESPN’s The Hoop Collective.
“They didn’t feel like LeVert was a guy who could do anything more than maybe bump them towards mediocrity. So they didn’t want to pay him.”
This logic makes sense, as LeVert is owed $16.2 million this season, $17.5 million next season, and $18.7 million in 2022-23. That’s a hefty price tag for a player the franchise reportedly didn’t believe in.
There have also been questions regarding why the Rockets passed on All-NBA guard Ben Simmons, who was reportedly offered for James Harden by the Philadelphia 76ers. After all, Simmons is under contract long-term and is only 24-years-old, so why not take former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey up on that offer?
MacMahon explained the basis of that decision also.
“This comes down to, They didn’t think Ben Simmons was good enough to build around.”
As we now know, the Rockets ultimately took a package centered around a historic haul of draft picks by the Brooklyn Nets, which makes it difficult to assess the trade at this point in time, as the draft capital spans in the coming years, as outlined below:
- 2022 1st round pick (unprotected)
- 2024 1st round pick (unprotected)
- 2026 1st round pick (unprotected)
In addition, the Rockets will also get back their right to swap picks in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027. Although this return may not be as sexy as many would like for it to have been, the move to turn down Simmons and LeVert makes sense, as explained by MacMahon.
“[Stone is] shorting Brooklyn and he thinks those Brooklyn picks on the back end have a chance to be really, really high in the lottery. And look shorting Brooklyn, I think there’s some sound logic there.
The Nets very well could win a title this season and/or next season. But do any of us think that Nets trio has got long-term staying power?
I mean just go on the history of star pairings with all three of those guys. They’ve got a 2 or 3 year window and things get really wild.”
The Houston Rockets’ front office had a long-term vision in mind when making the trade, so there’s no way of judging the return right now, but MacMahon provided a basis of judging the trade in the future.
“If they don’t get an All-NBA talent put of that bundle of Brooklyn picks then it was a bad trade because Ben Simmons is an all-NBA talent.”
Although many may be critical of Stone’s decision as it pertains to the Harden trade, he struck gold on the Kevin Porter Jr. acquisition and the Jae’Sean Tate signing, as both players have shown themselves capable of being building blocks for the future and were acquired quite easily.