HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said Tuesday that he isn’t sure who will be attending the June 22 draft lottery when the team finds out where it will pick in July’s draft.
But based on the luck he had in his first season as GM, he joked that he’s hoping it’s not him.
“It’s definitely not me,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas chimed in. “You see our injuries this year?”
After finishing at the bottom of the league’s standings at 17-55 — the third-worst record in team history and worst since the 1982-83 season — Houston has a 14% chance to secure the top pick, same as Detroit and Orlando.
If Houston’s pick falls outside of the top four — about a 48% chance — Oklahoma City has the right to swap Miami’s No. 18 pick for it.
Stone was noncommittal on his plans for the future, including whether or not Houston may try to package its three first-round picks for an established veteran.
He was, however, adamant that the team doesn’t plan to intentionally perform poorly to accumulate top draft picks over a prolonged period.
“We’re committed to building something that gives us a championship,” Stone said. “Not trying to package a bunch of picks to barely make the playoffs for a year or two. We’re trying to build something sustainable with something that can be good now and great later.”
In reflecting on their first season in their new roles, Stone and Silas chalked up much of Houston’s woes to bad luck.
It was a turbulent season. In December, weeks before the season started, Houston dealt Russell Westbrook to Washington for John Wall and a first-round pick.
About six weeks later, amid mounting frustration from disgruntled superstar James Harden, who had been a franchise cornerstone in Houston for nearly a decade, the Rockets traded him to Brooklyn, eventually getting Victor Oladipo and four first-round picks.
In March, Oladipo was flipped to Miami for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and a 2022 pick swap.
In the immediate aftermath of the Harden trade, Houston rattled off a six-game winning streak that lifted the team’s record to 10-9 on Feb. 1.
From there, however, the Rockets managed just seven wins in their last 53 games, a .132 winning percentage.
Despite the struggles, Silas and Stone expressed optimism.
“To have the season that we had, regardless of the wins and losses, and still be super hopeful for the future doesn’t happen very often in this league,” Silas said.
“When you lose as much as we did this season and still feel very good about what we have moving forward, that’s a very good feeling. I’m excited about the group, I’m excited about the organization, and I’m excited about the future.”
Silas and Stone spoke highly of Wall’s first season in Houston. When Wall made his Rockets debut, he hadn’t played in an NBA game for more than two years because of recoveries from knee and Achilles injuries.
Wall, who turns 31 in September, averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists. Silas said Wall’s nagging injuries over the course of the season were the results of him wanting to play more and be as competitive and aggressive as possible.
“Those are the things that make John super impactful for our team,” Silas said. “Just the amount of pride that I have for him, based on what he did, coming back from that injury, is just immeasurable.”
Versatile big man Christian Wood was also a bright spot in his first season in Houston. After signing a three-year, $41 million deal in the offseason, Wood averaged 21.0 points and 9.6 rebounds and shot 37.4% from 3-point range.
“He plays both ends, he plays inside-out, he’s a walking bucket,” Stone said. “Christian can play. One of the really encouraging things about this year is how well Christian can play.”
The injury issue also hit shooting guard Eric Gordon, who missed the last two months of the season with a groin strain.
One silver lining from the injuries is that Houston saw a lot of its younger core. Kevin Porter Jr. was acquired from Cleveland for a heavily protected second-round pick in January. Porter dazzled at times, including a breakout game in April where he became the youngest in league history to post a 50-point, 10-assist game, days before his 21st birthday. Porter averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 assists in 26 games.
Jae’Sean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr. also provided reasons for optimism about Houston’s future, Stone said. He highlighted the versatility of each Rockets player and how that flexibility gives him plenty of options heading into the offseason.
“You find the best basketball players you can and make it fit,” Stone said.
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