Rockets plan to be aggressive in 2021 offseason, competitive in 2021-22

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Ben DuBose
·3 min read
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Entering Wednesday, the Houston Rockets (13-37) were only a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the dubious distinction of having the NBA’s worst record in the 2020-21 season.

Fortunately for fans of the Rockets, general manager Rafael Stone doesn’t expect that to be a regular occurrence in the years ahead. Citing a catastrophic wave of injuries, Stone contends that Houston’s current record is not indicative of the team’s true talent level, and he expects a “much more competitive” team as soon as the 2021-22 season.

In comments made Wednesday to Sean Salisbury of SportsTalk 790, here’s what Stone said when asked about the timing of a rebuild:

That entirely depends on the offseason and the market, and player movement. As you guys have seen, the NBA is at least as great a league in the offseason, as it is during the season.

The Rockets have been, the whole time I’ve bene here, one of the most aggressive transactional teams in the league. We’ve been the most aggressive, transactionally, since I’ve been here. I would anticipate that continues. But you can’t force things. The last thing in the world you want to do is take the first big deal that’s out there, even if it’s bad.

We’ll be aggressive on the trade market, and we’ll be aggressive on the free agency market, but at the same time, trying to build really smart. We do think we can be competitive very quickly. We would hope to field a much more competitive team next year.

But in terms of how long the rebuild takes, a lot of that depends on how long it takes us to acquire a player or two who have the ability to be truly elite. Maybe we even have one or two of those guys on our roster. But it’s not a one-day process. The team we had that was challenging for championships for five years wasn’t built in one day. We all understand that. … We’re not trying to do a 10-year turnaround, but having said that, I can’t tell you we’ll be able to flip a switch.

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One benefit for Houston is the enormous amount of future draft picks that they have acquired in trades sending out veterans such as James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Robert Covington, and PJ Tucker.

Based on the diversity of draft options, Stone says the Rockets don’t feel as compelled to “tank” as many other franchises around the league. In turn, that makes it easier for Houston to simultaneously field a competitive team while rebuilding, since there are other means to potentially acquire elite talents beyond simply using their own picks.

“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.”

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