Rafael Stone did not watch the Draft Lottery on Tuesday, nor did he follow along on his phone, laptop or tablet. Instead of watching the lottery unfold anxiously like the rest of Red Nation, Stone decided against the latter by reading a book throughout the process. When it was over, Stone looked at the results and said to himself, “We can work with that.”
The 2021 NBA Draft is 32 days away, and the Houston Rockets have secured the second overall pick. The ‘21 Rockets’ draft selection marks the second time in franchise history Houston held the No. 2 overall pick. The last time the Rockets selected a player at two —Rudy Tomjanovich during the 1970 NBA Draft.
However, by the time the second prospect gets an opportunity to hear his name called by Adam Silver, there is a chance the commissioner will be announcing a selection not made by the Rockets come July 27.
Before the Draft Lottery, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Rockets are one of a few teams seeking an acceleration in their rebuild by trading their picks in exchange for young veterans or All-Star-level players. It’s a scenario Rockets’ general manager did not refute — even if Houston had the top overall selection.
“I think that is a big part of the job. It’s not that we are looking to do that, but I think you shouldn’t foreclose anything. You have to do the work and use the allotted time and have all of the discussions. I think the process is worthwhile to avoid predetermining things. That’s something we try hard to avoid.” — Stone
The possibility of trading a draft pick(s) is a strategy that isn’t foreign to the Rockets. Under the last regime, Houston traded out of the first round seven times since 2009 and didn’t have a draft selection in 2019. The last time the Rockets made a draft choice in the first round was Sam Dekker (No. 18 overall) in 2015.
Whether or not the Rockets keep their pick, Stone says the goal is to find a star player to add to their current young core.
There is a strong possibility that Houston will miss out on the chance to select Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who will likely begin his pro-career in Detroit as a member of the Pistons. But there will still be a plethora of talented prospects the Rockets can choose should they keep their pick.
Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, and Jalen Suggs are three prospects who possess the potential to become star players on an NBA level. But Stone doesn’t believe in putting unrealistic pressure on their draftee beyond what they expect from the rest of their current roster.
“The goal is to find talented basketball players. What we expect from a player is that they are going to give us everything they got. That’s the only expectation we have. I do think we are going to get someone talented if we keep the pick. And if we don’t, it’s because we saw someone else who we believe is really talented.” — Stone
Going into his second year as GM, Stone does not plan to make any significant decisions during the draft process unassisted. Rockets’ head coach Stephen Silas will work in conjunction with Stone to find a common ground when determining which player is worth selecting during the draft.
The second overall pick has seen its fair share of success — and busts — throughout NBA history. The selection has produced 16 Rookie of the Year winners that includes Ja Morant (2020), Kevin Durant (2008), and former Rockets All-Star Steve Francis (2000).
In addition to the No. 2 pick, the Rockets are entering the 2021 NBA Draft with three first-round selections (No. 23 & No. 24) for the first time since 2012.
“The easiest way to make a mistake is predetermining what you are going to do. Our approach to the draft — and even free agency — is to look at everything as it comes up. We will keep doing all of our work and research the players in the draft — not just at one or two. And we’ll try and figure out the best way to move forward from there.” — Stone