As they complete their third straight season with one of the worst records in the NBA, the Houston Rockets believe they have the pieces in place to begin to accelerate their rebuild. The Rockets have drafted Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. with their first two high lottery picks and will get a third this year.
"I think we're kind of coming to the end of the first stage of it," Rafael Stone said. "When my group took over, we didn't have draft picks and we didn't have cap space. We had a team that was kind of singularly built. It was built to play a single style of play based around kind of a generational talent. And so we kind of felt like we had the right set that starting at the bottom floor."
The Rockets are projected to have more than $60 million in cap space this offseason.
Including the team option for Kenyon Martin Jr., Houston has 11 players under contract for next season and 10 of those players are 22 or younger.
"They need to continue to improve and they need to improve at a really great rate," Stone said of the team's young core. "That doesn't mean anybody needs to be an All-Star next year, but we need to see really good progression, which starts with really good work ethic. And to date, I have no complaints about how hard our guys work. That needs to continue. As they get older and their capacity for hard work grows, they need to then exceed that capacity. It's an exponential thing. That's the challenge for them."
The Rockets plan on bringing in some veterans with their available cap space.
"We're definitely gonna bring in some veteran players this offseason," Stone said. "But that's largely because if you go draft a guy, they're not gonna be ready to play in the NBA with a one in a million exception. So we want to bring in people who help our guys and we know what we're getting. And, by definition, that's a veteran."
Stone and Tilman Fertitta are ready for their next step.
"Everything worth doing is at some level or another really hard," Stone said. "And, certainly I think every team and every organization would rather have unlimited success year over year, forever. That's not where we were when I took over. That realistically was not something I felt confident we could achieve. And so then the question becomes, 'What's your goal?'
"My goal, our goal, the Fertittas' goal, our organization's goal is to win championships. And so we tried to plot out what we thought was the best path to get there. And that's what we're trying to execute on."