Chandler Parsons received a three year $45 million contract from the Dallas Mavericks. The reaction of Rockets fans, sadly, has been hysterical to say the least. Wrapped up in this drama is that Houston has only three days to decide whether or not to match on Chandler Parsons, hear back from Chris Bosh regarding his max offer (Which is contingent on Lebron James), and offload Jeremy Lin. The Rockets currently have a deal on the table for Jeremy Lin to head to Philadelphia so at least there's one burden taken care of.
The conversation, however, centers around one fundamental assumption; the Rockets need to sign Bosh and retain Parsons. But why? Does Chandler Parsons represent such an upgrade over all available small forwards that he needs to be retained?
As it stands, the Rockets are at $51 million dollars in guaranteed money (Includes Parsons cap hold and Asik trade). The projected cap for next year is roughly $63 million. Should Houston match they would use Parsons' Bird rights to exceed the cap and hit $64 million in guaranteed salary. That disqualifies Houston from offering anything other than exceptions to round out the roster. Should Houston move Lin they would drop to $43 million in space and sit at $56 million after matching Parsons. Just seven million would be available to sign depth and replacement players. If the Rockets let Parsons walk, with no other moves, their cap space sits at $49 million. Conveniently enough, the Rockets can move Jeremy Lin at that point to clear down to $41 million and then sign Bosh to his absolute maximum deal.
Houston has some tough questions to answer. Primarily the ones below.
Is Parsons worth $15 million?
If the Rockets prefer to retain Chandler Parsons they will pay him $15 million and be sitting at $64 million in guaranteed salary. Parsons averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 47% shooting last season (56% true shooting). For comparison's sake, other players making $12-15 million include Andre Iguodala (9.3 points, 4.7 boards, 48%/57% TS at 12.5 million), Luol Deng (16 points, 6 rebounds, 43%/52%, 14 million), and Paul Pierce (13 points, 4 rebounds, 45%/60%, 15 million).
Before we get enamored with Chandler's stats compared to everyone else's we need to acknowledge that the Rockets' pace can inflate a lot of stats. Per 100 possessions, in reverse order, Pierce (25 points, 9 rebounds), Deng (24 points, 9 rebounds), Iguodala (14 points, 7 rebounds), Parsons (22 points, 7 rebounds).
Defensively, Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng are superior to Chandler Parsons. Pierce's age almost completely disqualifies him from consideration primarily because of the rest of the Rockets and the title window Morey sees for the team. If Chandler Parsons sets the small forward market, expect the Rockets to be out of the running to replace him.
Who else is throwing money around?
As it stands, it is a seller's market this season. Teams with monstrous amounts of cap space include Miami, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Utah, Orlando, Dallas, Charlotte, Detroit, Los Angeles Lakers, and even the Atlanta Hawks. Since Houston is looking to throw maximum money at Chris Bosh, any cap space they can open is negligible. With so many teams with a minimum of $15 million to spend players can expect massive paydays. The biggest player in free agency is Miami with an overabundance of cap space due to three player options (Bosh, Wade, and James). The team to watch is Phoenix with $35 million to spend in free agency. Team needs vary, of course, and teams with major room won't necessarily be flinging it around at one free agent but it does cramp the market quite a bit for Houston.
Houston does have one significant factor in its favor. Of all the teams that are restricted to their exception money to fill out a roster only the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are as appealing a destination as the Rockets.
Is Parsons replaceable?
This seems to be one of the major points of contention amongst Rockets fans. Chandler Parsons was integral in recruiting Dwight Howard and Howard shares the same agent as Parsons. This can be overstated, though, as both are grown men who acknowledge they are in a business. That and nobody forced Chandler to sign an offer sheet for another team. No, whether or not Chandler is replaceable turns on his production and what the Rockets need. The Rockets need better defensive presence. Due to pace, scoring will be there. Any replacement forward will need to shoot the three and play defense.
There are two players currently on the free agent market that fit the bill of rounding out the Rockets needs. One name, Trevor Ariza (14 points, 6 boards, 46%/59%, per 100: 21 points, 9 boards), will cause a Rockets fans to shrill in what sounds like excruciating pain. Those fans, though, forget that Ariza was expected to be a number one option when he was in Houston. That would not be the case today. The other player is Luol Deng. After last year's run with the Wizards, Ariza's value is floating in the same region as Luol Deng's after Deng's disappointing year. This could create issues for Houston unless convincing a player to take a salary cut to start and compete for title for four years works.
Is Bosh worth passing on?
Should Houston opt to retain Parsons they necessarily give up on Chris Bosh (Again, unless he'll take a paycut in subsequent moves to join the Rockets). Bosh averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 52%/60%. Worth noting is the last time Chris played Center he averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds with 49%/55%. Per 100 his numbers bounce to 27 points and 11 rebounds as a center and 27 points and 12 rebounds as a power forward. For comparison, Terrence Jones provides 12 points and 7 rebounds on 54%/58% shooting. Per 100 Jones provides 22 points and 13 rebounds. The key difference between the two, though, is that Bosh provides Dwight Howard the ability to not have to leave the paint defensively. Last season Dwight continually had to chase rangy forwards out to the mid-range or three-point line and the Rockets lost perimeter defense for it. Bosh is still a very capable defender and, at the power forward position, most of his woes would be resolved.
Statistically Terrence Jones is closer to Bosh than many Rockets fans want to give him credit for. Defensively Terrence has a great deal to learn and Bosh has mastered it throughout his career. Could Jones acquire that level of defense with time? No one knows and anyone willing to give you a definitive answer isn't someone you should trust. What is certain, however, is that if you want that skill, you get Bosh and know it's there.
One can argue that Bosh is not a maximum level player. Certainly comparable power forwards include Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 6 boards, 50%/56%), Kevin Love (26 points, 13 rebounds 45%/59%), and LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points, 11 boards 46%/51%). All of these players have been featured on their teams and are arguably worse defensive players than Bosh. What nobody can argue is that the value of a Chris Bosh to the Houston Rockets is certainly maximum worthy. A maximum level player is a player that is the difference between a first round exit and a title. A maximum level player is a player that absolves your team of a multitude of sins. Is Chris the best at his position in a way that Lebron James, Chris Paul, James Harden, and Dwight Howard are? He is most certainly not. What Chris is, however, is the key to Dwight being able to play dominant defense, containing Aldridge to prevent 50 point explosions (When they count, too), a floor spacer that would not alter the Rockets offense, and a player that would help cover defensive woes on the wings. If that doesn't warrant maximum level money when it's available then the alternatives must be incredible.
Are we as flexible if we retain Parsons?
The short answer is we are more flexible. If Chandler is retained the Rockets are over the cap by one million dollars. If they move Jeremy Lin they drop to seven million below the cap and stand at $56 a year. The Rockets would then need to use that seven million dollars, mid level exceptions, and the bi-annual exception to yield the rest of their roster. Primarily this money would have to go to a back up center, a point guard, shooting guard depth, small forward depth, and a potential power forward upgrade. Those needs don't disappear with Bosh on the roster; rather, the financials get cramped to meet the same needs (Swap upgrade power forward with get a starting small forward). The struggle, though, is convincing players to take exceptions and pay cuts to come to a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs last year and gained more needs to fill than it solved last season.
Why can't we have both?
We can. Timelines just need to match up. Chris Bosh is waiting on Lebron James. Lebron James has to decide within three days. Should Lebron leave Miami the Rockets will then move Jeremy Lin to Philadelphia (This has to be collusion at this point between Royce and Lin) and sign Chris to a maximum contract. At that point, the Rockets can exceed the cap to retain its own free agent in Chandler Parsons. That puts the Rockets at $78 million in committed salary. The luxury tax is $73 million. The Rockets will then pay a penalty of $7.5 million to $8.75 minimum in luxury tax fines. The Rockets would also lose flexibility such as a reduction in the mid level exception, lose their bi-annual exception, and would be unable to acquire a player in a sign and trade unless it reduced their cap hit. This creates some roster building issues going forward. Morey has shown no problem in being able to solve roster issues and ditch contracts, however, his team would be capped out and rising well above the luxury tax throughout the productive years of his core.
So what do you recommend?
Let Parsons walk and acknowledge the man got paid. Mark Cuban offered him the money and he took it. Parsons went from making almost nothing to multiplying his annual income by over 15 times what it was. There's not a single person out there that would hold loyalty over that kind of increase in pay. Parsons is a great guy, he's been a rock in Houston. Replacing him would be difficult. Then again, defeating the Heat was difficult when they had no bench and three superstars. Daryl Morey has shown no problem of throwing together a team with D-Leaguers and cast-offs that produce well above what they should be able to. Further, it's much easier to sell exceptions to players if they knew they'd come to a team with Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, and James Harden as opposed to returning to a significantly weakened team with Parsons making almost as much as James Harden. Until Parsons enters the conversation of "the best at his position" like James has, that number is difficult to justify. Plus, if they let Parsons walk over to Dallas for $15 million the Mavericks drop to about $10 million in available space.
Don't crucify the man for getting paid. Don't view him as a traitor. Most of all, though, please do not overstate what Chandler Parsons brings to this team. His defense has dropped off a cliff since he first showed up in Houston and his offensive production is something we've got a great deal of in Houston.