Rockets GM: Draft pick haul the ‘best currency’

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Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone cited the “flexibility” provided by the historic haul of first-round draft picks the franchise received in the James Harden trade as the reason he chose to deal the perennial MVP candidate to the Brooklyn Nets over other offers.

In the four-team trade officially finalized Saturday, Houston received three unprotected first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026) from the Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2022 first-rounder via the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rights to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn in four other years. Former All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo, guard Dante Exum and forward Rodions Kurucs also headed to Houston in the deal.

Sources said the Rockets also had in-depth discussions with the Philadelphia 76ers, who offered a package with All-NBA guard Ben Simmons as the centerpiece, in the hours before agreeing to send Harden to Brooklyn on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about the other [offers],” Stone said in a virtual media availability Sunday. “I would say what’s super exciting about this deal is it gives us flexibility. In the NBA, picks, especially high picks, are the best currency. Everybody likes them. Everybody values them. That was great organizationally. It gave us flexibility to do different types of deals as they come up this year, next year or whatever.

“Then we were able to get Victor Oladipo as part of it, along with [Kurucs and Exum], but Victor’s a guy that we’re really excited about. I think he’s excited to be here, and we think he’s very talented, so that was not insignificant from our perspective.”

The Rockets also received a $10.6 million trade exception in the deal. Stone said the Rockets “will aggressively be trying to use” that exception before the deadline in late March.

Stone said Harden’s harsh comments after a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, when the superstar declared that the Rockets “just aren’t good enough” and that he didn’t believe the situation could be “fixed,” did not expedite trade discussions.

“I can guarantee you it didn’t affect us,” said Stone, a longtime Rockets front-office employee who was promoted to general manager after Daryl Morey’s resignation in October.

Stone said the Rockets entered the season engaged in the process of finding a deal for Harden, who requested a trade during the offseason and briefly held out of the beginning of training camp to make it clear that he wouldn’t be changing his mind.

“He came to the decision he came to, and we all will move forward,” Stone said. “He’s a great basketball player. I wish him nothing but the best.”

Oladipo, a two-time All-Star with the Indiana Pacers whose career was interrupted when he ruptured his right quadriceps tendon in January 2019, joined the Rockets for Sunday’s practice.

Oladipo, who averaged 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in nine games for the Pacers this season, is in the final year of his contract. Stone said he is looking forward to evaluating how Oladipo fits with the Rockets.

“Your hope is that it’s a perfect marriage,” Stone said. “He’s an extremely talented player. He’s a two-way player. He’s played at an extraordinarily high level. He’s obviously had a significant injury. He’s back. He’s already really, really good, but I think in his own mind and in ours, there’s still room to grow, which is really exciting.

“I think for him and for us, this is like a really exciting time where we get to see if it works out. Hopefully, it just works out gangbusters, and then we take it from there.”

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