Rafael Stone Rumors
The Rockets’ position on Harden, for the record, hasn’t changed: They don’t want to trade him. Unappetizing as it sounds, Houston wants to play the long game and see if it can rebuild its relationship with Harden before conceding that trading him is the only alternative, even after Rafael Stone, the new general manager, made a forward-looking move in his first major trade by agreeing to send Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza and two future first-round picks.
Stone has known how Westbrook feels long enough that he did not need Sunday’s NBA memo, declaring that the moratorium on trades ends at 11 a.m. Monday morning, to begin assessing his options. Westbrook, like Harden, shares his opinions generously. So far, Stone has not gotten close to the “shopping” stage, with his talks falling between “listening” and “exploring.”
The Rockets likely will need both. And for the trade possibilities that have circled like birds of prey, the Rockets’ goal remains, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking, to make their core players believe again in the team’s championship chances. That, as always, begins with the face of the franchise. James Harden has long had enormous input in how the team has been built. That has not changed. He has been known to grow impatient, as with his restlessness through the six days it took to complete the trade for Westbrook in the summer of 2019.
The Rockets believe they can bring in the help to regain his confidence. But it will take a whole lot more than powers of persuasion to make the Rockets — tied for fourth in the West and quickly brushed aside by the champion Lakers in the second round — look like legitimate contenders. Westbrook, according to a person with knowledge of conversations, wants to feel as if he can “be himself.” That could mean moving to a team that would return him to his Thunder role. The Rockets believe it could come with adjustments in Houston.
Houston Rockets GM Rafael Stone has consistently been telling teams that the Rockets plan to “run it back” with Harden this season, sources said. The Rockets have seemed inclined to listen to offers on Harden, sources said, although that’s customary for most teams about most players in the league. If the Rockets did decide to engage in trade talks on Harden, they’ve privately made it clear that they would require a monstrous return of players, draft picks and pick swaps.
Q: The Rockets were very open about the plan to go all-in last season. Do you still operate as a championship contender with a priority on immediate goals? Do you need to be more cautious with future assets, with draft picks? Rafael Stone: We’re still all-in. Our goal is to win a championship. We’ll do anything we can to get us closer to that goal.