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To keep or to trade? Rafael Stone excited by Houston’s possibilities

To keep or to trade? Rafael Stone excited by Houston’s possibilities

Known for his strategic thinking, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone found himself in an unfamiliar position on Sunday after the NBA’s 2024 draft lottery. The annual event determines where teams pick in the first round, which takes place this year on June 26.

For the past three years, Stones selected players out of necessity in Houston’s rebuilding phase, which was brought on after James Harden’s departure. So, when the Rockets surprisingly secured the No. 3 pick in 2024, Stone was left with a strategic choice: keep the pick or trade it in a package for a veteran player or future assets. The decision could significantly shape the team’s future.

With Houston’s existing young core of rotation players, it might seem unlikely it would add another young player who would compete for minutes. However, that is not necessarily the case.

“The possibility of adding another young talented player in the draft or through a trade, we’re excited about that possibility,” Stone said in a post-lottery press conference. He had just arrived at the draft combine in Chicago after scouting prospects in France in recent days.

That seemed an unlikely scenario after the emergence of Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, who played key roles as rookies in helping the Rockets go 41-41 last season. Add in the developmental leaps made by shooting guard Jalen Green and center Alperen Sengun in their third seasons — and promise shown by second-year forward Jabari Smith Jr. — and Houston has the blueprint to be a special team.  

“The guys we have in the locker room today, we’re excited to bring back,” Stone said at his end-of-season press conference last month. “We’ll look at things, but, again, I don’t view our roster as, ‘We’re missing X; we need to go find it.’ It’s not like we have a gaping hole.”

Many college and NBA analysts believe this draft class is weaker than in most years. The consensus is that many top-10 players in this class are outstanding role players, rather than superstars. If Houston keeps the pick, it could help them in the future by allowing their selection to develop with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets’ G League affiliate. 

“I think last year’s draft was a different draft than we’ve seen in a while, just because there was so much attention focused on just one guy (Victor Wembanyama), Stone said. “That wasn’t the case in the two drafts before it, and I don’t think it’ll be the case this year.”

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