NBA Hoops

Rafael Stone says Rockets are focused on bringing back core group

NBA execs expect Rockets to extend GM Rafael Stone’s contract

As things stand, the Rockets have one of the NBA’s more intriguing cores of young talent. Houston’s 19-win improvement — going from 22-60 in the 2022-23 season to 41-41 in 2023-24 — was the biggest year-on-year jump of any team, and the recent addition of the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2024 could further supplement that core.

With all that in mind, and the presence of a proven head coach in Ime Udoka, speculation has swirled that Houston could consolidate some of those assets in a trade to further expedite its timetable.

But that’s not necessarily the case, per general manager Rafael Stone. In a new interview with The Athletic’s Kelly Iko, Stone says:

We’re comfortable with our team and we think we’re going to improve internally. Because of that, I don’t think we’re likely to be super aggressive. It doesn’t mean we won’t listen. And it doesn’t mean if we think that there’s a unique opportunity, we won’t jump at it.

But we have very talented players, they’re young and we lost a ton of games to injury. That combination means our primary focus is bringing back our core group as a better core group than it was last year, both through internal improvement and health.

Houston’s young core includes six players selected in the first rounds of the 2021 through 2023 drafts: Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, Amen Thompson, and Cam Whitmore.

To Stone’s point, Eason missed 60 games of the recently completed season due to injury, and Sengun and Thompson each missed approximately 20 apiece. So, aside from the usual development and growth trajectories of young players, there’s also a case to be made that Houston could further improve simply from better health.

Iko’s complete interview with Stone can be read here.

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