Is this "the most challenging offseason" of the Houston Rockets' Rafael Stone era?

The Houston Rockets' Rafael Stone will face some difficult decisions this summer
The Houston Rockets' Rafael Stone will face some difficult decisions this summer / Alex Bierens de Haan/GettyImages

A decision may be obvious. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right decision to make. Still, you can't judge a decision-maker until the decisions get a little more difficult.

Take Houston Rockets' general manager Rafael Stone. The decision to build the Rockets from the ground up once James Harden requested a trade was bold, but in hindsight, it was obvious.

From that point on, Stone has made a series of relatively easy decisions. Granted, selecting Jalen Green over Evan Mobley was also bold. Otherwise, Jabari Smith Jr. and Amen Thompson fell into the Rockets' laps. Even choices like Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, and Cam Whitmore weren't especially difficult choices to make.

Last summer, Stone did the obvious (and right) thing once again. Armed with a surplus of cap space, Stone spent money on solid veterans. This summer, Stone's acumen will be tested.

There's no obvious course of action available to him.

Houston Rockets face challenging offseason

At least, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

"Stone now has the daunting task of taking a competitive roster and transforming it into a play-in and eventual top-six team in the Western Conference"

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Marks has a point. The Rockets tanked for three years. They signed veterans to stop tanking and put a competitive roster together.

How do they go about forcing improvement?

Their financial wiggle room is limited. The Rockets can create some cap space by declining Jae'Sean Tate's team option or declining to guarantee Jock Landale's deal. Otherwise, they're working with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

That's enough to bring in a quality rotation player, but it may not move the needle on its own. Meanwhile, the Rockets are receiving a late lottery pick in a draft that's perceived to be historically weak. That player isn't likely to be a major contributor from day one.

What exactly is the move here?

Houston Rockets have options - limited or not

How about a trade?

By exploring the trade market, the Rockets open up a lot of possibilities. Tate and Landale could both be attractive as salary matches. If the Rockets are willing to include some draft capital, they could get several deals done.

Some have speculated that they could go star-hunting. That's an option. The Rockets could send all of their incoming draft capital from the Brooklyn Nets with one or two of their young players and bring in a superstar.

At the same time, more modest moves will also be on the table. The Rockets could package Tate with a second-round pick or two to bring in a shooting specialist from a team looking for financial freedom. This team has options.

Do they even need to make a trade?

Houston Rockets could improve from within

There's another option - run it back.

Who says Stone needs to improve the roster to improve the team? The Rockets are littered with soon-to-be sophomores and third-year players. In all likelihood, one or two of them will take a leap in 2024-25.

In the end, the Rockets should leave no stone - pun intended - unturned. There are a range of options available to them. If they hold serve, they can hang onto their assets. Still, if the right deal is on the table, the Rockets should take it.

Even if it's a difficult decision.