New Houston Rockets GM Rafael Stone: ‘We’re still all-in’

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For a few years now, the Houston Rockets have seen themselves as championship contenders — and they came close to a ring with the James Harden/Chris Paul team in 2018 that was up 3-2 on the Warriors in the conference finals. Last season, with Russell Westbrook, the small-ball Rockets talked title but never looked like a threat to the West’s elite.

Houston heads into next season with a new coach in Stephen Silas and a new GM in Rafael Stone, but Stone told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle in a Q&A the goal of winning a title has not changed.

“We’re still all-in. Our goal is to win a championship. We’ll do anything we can to get us closer to that goal.”

“The good news is we have really, really good basketball players… I’m getting a talented roster that has already won; not to the level we want but won in a big way. It’s about being very smart to keep the good stuff and be additive. You don’t want to do anything rash. You want to see if there are changes that will help….

“In our situation, lots of [other teams] want our players. That’s a great place to be. You have to make sure if you do something, it makes you better. I’m very optimistic the team is going to be very competitive. Whether it is rolling out the same guys and Steve is trying to make tweaks here and there and using mid-level, that’s a way of being very competitive. Maybe there’s a deal or two that can help us. We’re going to be very aggressive.”

Stone added Houston owner Tilman Fertitta is willing to pay the tax — which has not been the buzz around the league — and he plans to spend to win.

There are perhaps benefits to avoid it, but we’re planning to be in it… We’re certainly planning to be in the luxury tax this year. If a great deal appears and we end up shedding salary, we’d do that deal and then probably try to re-spend the salary. There’s no pressure whatsoever to not be in, but real pressure to win.

Stone takes over a roster that will spend $99.5 million next season on three players — Harden, Westbrook, Eric Gordon — and it’s the same for the next season as well. There is limited room to maneuver this small-ball roster and make meaningful changes. Stone will have to be creative and aggressive to get this team near the top of a very deep Western Conference.

If they’re not, Houston may face some tough decisions next offseason.

For this season, Stone and everyone else with the Rockets have made it clear a ring is still the goal.