Rafael Stone: Rockets focused on championship, not just making playoffs

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The Houston Rockets have made it clear that they’re open to potentially trading a portion of their stockpile of future draft assets for established NBA talent. However, they won’t make a move just to make one.

At Tuesday’s season-ending press conference to preview the 2021 offseason, general manager Rafael Stone emphasized that the Rockets won’t make a trade simply to get back into the playoffs as a lower seed.

Among Stone’s comments:

We’re really committed to building something to give us a chance to win a championship. We’re not packaging a bunch of picks to barely make the playoffs for a year or two, not at all. We’re trying to build something sustainable and with players that will be good now and great later.

That approach could be seen during Houston’s trade negotiations involving James Harden earlier this year. The Rockets had offers available including established talents such as Ben Simmons from Philadelphia or Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, who were both in Brooklyn at the time.

While acquiring those types of players would have certainly made for a better product on the floor in 2020-21, the case could be made that it would have reduced the team’s long-term upside.

For example, Simmons is being paid an average of more than $35 million per season through 2024-25, and Allen is expected to receive a contract extension in the range of $100 million this offseason. Those types of salaries could prove prohibitive when it comes to building out a roster around them, particularly if those players aren’t viewed themselves as leading options on a championship-caliber team.

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Having Simmons or LeVert and Allen also would have likely prevented the Rockets (17-55) from having the NBA’s worst record this season. By doing so, the Rockets have maximized their draft lottery odds.

As a result, the Rockets went with a four-team trade package that is built around future draft assets and offers more salary cap flexibility in the years ahead. It remains to be seen if Stone can utilize that flexibility and those picks to bring in superior talent, but the Rockets are willing to take the risk of being worse now in exchange for a larger reward down the line.

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