“If I was a Rockets fan, I would be outraged. They could’ve had Ben Simmons ... a top 25 guy who can be the first or second-best player on a perennial contender ... now all we got is this shit sandwich.” That's how Bill Simmons summed up the Rockets trade deadline moves and the end result of the Harden trade. Instead of Ben Simmons, Maxey, and a few picks, the Rockets opted to trade with the Nets. Even in that trade, they didn't want Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. The Rockets decided to take a bunch of picks and Victor Oladipo, who then got traded for Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley. When you sum it all up, here's what the Rockets got for James Harden.
- 4 1st-round picks (Nets '22, '24 and '26, Cavs '22)
- 5 1st-round pick swaps (Nets '21, '23, '25, '27, Heat '22)
- Avery Bradley
- Kelly Olynyk
- Dante Exum
- Rodion Kurucs
To be fair to the Rockets GM Rafael Stone, we don't know the mandate the Rockets owner, Tilman "Shut up and listen" Fertita, gave him. It's quite possible Fertita refused to trade with the Sixers to spite Daryl Morey and told Stone he doesn't want to pay a lot for a team that's not contending. Keep in mind Stone's boss managed to compete with James Dolan for the worst owner in the NBA in a very short period of time. With that said, here's how Stone responded to all the criticism the Harden trade's been under.
“One of your colleagues texted me the day after the trade, and they said they would evaluate me in 2027. And I told them that that was too early; they should do it in 2030. ... I would for sure, 100 percent, do that deal again. Again, you guys don't have the advantages of knowing everything I know, but literally, no part of me regrets doing that deal. I have not second-guessed it for a moment.”
More and more GMs prefer to get a lot of picks years into the future than actual talent, and a large part of it is how it impacts their job security. Technically, Stone is right. We don't know; maybe the Rockets are in a Brooklyn 2.0 situation, a sequel to the Garnett/Pierce trade, and some of those picks turn into a player like Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown. We can't fully judge the trade until we know who the Rockets will get - so we can't conclude he made a bad deal. That's an argument Stone can make to his owner, and have job security.
“I mean, it was just BS, to be honest. To say he has zero regrets? You could've had Caris LeVert. You could've had Ben Simmons. You better pray and hope those first-round picks turn out to be something extraordinary. I live in Houston, Texas, and right now the Houston fanbase, and the word around town is that they're not happy. The Rockets organization don't know what they're doing. And it's OK to make mistakes, you live, and you learn.”
Kendrick Perkins, The Jump
Perk added that it's fine to say you'd do things differently; he was obviously annoyed with that part of Stone's statement, the conviction he'd do everything exactly the same. Again, I'd point out we can't forget Tilman Fertita runs the show, and everything Stone says has to be considered through that prism. But Perk echoed something the Rockets fanbase has been saying for a while. This was bad. Brian Windhorst pointed out that even if we take Fertita into account, Stone's statements contradict each other.
“In a vacuum, I get what he's saying, but the problem is he's laying out plans, and the plans have gone back and forth. He says, "Don't evaluate until 2030." but he [also] says he wants to do a quick rebuild. The problem with a quick rebuild is, why didn't you trade for Ben Simmons then? If you trade for John Wall and Ben Simmons, that's a rebuild baby! On one day, it's a quick rebuild, and then in the same breath, it's "evaluate me in 2030." Either one of those are fine positions to take; it makes it look like you can't stick to a plan.”
Brian Windhorst, The Jump
Stone was put in a challenging situation. Weeks into his first stint as a GM, James Harden asked for a trade and acted very unprofessionally. He had to make the most important trade in the Rockets history, with a lot of complications and personal feelings getting in the way. I get all that. But a big part of being a GM is selling your moves to the owner and the fans. As Gavin O'leary at Sideline Sources pointed out, Stone said the Rockets are in a position to avoid a “wholesale tank strategy.” Trading Harden for all those picks and asking to get evaluated in 2030 doesn't sound like avoiding a "wholesale tank."
So far, I don't think Stone has done a great job, at least when it comes to the fans' part.