Rafael Stone insists 2020-21 Rockets derailed by injuries, not tanking

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Ben DuBose
·2 min read
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At 50 games into the 2020-21 season, the Houston Rockets (13-37) have the NBA’s second-worst record. But according to general manager Rafael Stone, it’s certainly not by design from the organization.

On Wednesday, SportsTalk 790 host Sean Salisbury asked Stone if he was offended by talk of “tanking” — i.e. intentionally losing games to boost the team’s odds of getting a high pick from the 2021 draft lottery.

Stone replied:

I don’t know if I get offended, but it’s not what we are doing. There definitely are teams doing it, it’s just not what we are doing. We just took absolutely catastrophic injuries this year. That’s what happened.

So, our record is what it is. I do think there are teams that are trying very hard not to win games, that are perfectly healthy. Different teams are choosing to do different things for different reasons.

To Stone’s point, Christian Wood and Eric Gordon have each missed 23 of the team’s 50 games this season (nearly half). John Wall has missed 18. When the Rockets had Victor Oladipo, he suffered both injury absences and an inability to play on both ends of back-to-backs due to injury maintenance. Many of those absences have overlapped, which has had a crippling effect on the rotation options available to Stephen Silas.

Thus, as the Rockets see it, their record isn’t reflective of where they would be, if the team hadn’t had such bad luck with injuries. In turn, that could offer hope of a quicker-than-expected turnaround for the Rockets, if and when their bad injury luck turns around.

From Stone’s perspective, another benefit to that strategy is the numerous future draft picks they have acquired from teams such as Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Portland, Detroit, and Washington. Based on the diversity of pick options, Stone says the Rockets don’t feel as compelled to “tank” as many other teams around the league.

“To me, tanking is intentionally trying to be as bad as you can, so that your draft pick is the one that gets you over the hump,” Stone told Salisbury. “We’re thankful that we have draft picks from other teams, and betting a little bit, maybe, that some of them struggle in the future. As a result, we’re more willing to try and be competitive.”

“We want to be young and competitive,” Stone emphasized. “Again, that’s harder. But at least a mix of middle [ages] and young. That’s kind of the goal, for this team.”

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