When Daryl Morey let Chandler Parsons walk he made the right call. There, feel free to sprint right to the comments to complain and disagree. I'd rather we get the reflexive anger out first. Should you be open to alternative points of view, however, feel free to read on. The Dallas Mavericks offered Chandler Parsons (17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists per game) $15 million a year and the Houston Rockets declined to match the sheet. With that, the Mavericks acquired a maximum contract small forward and the Houston Rockets avoided tying their cap up for three years. Instead, the Rockets signed Trevor Ariza (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists per game) for $8.5 million (Becomes around $7 million by the end of the deal). Many Rockets fans have begged "Just why does this make sense?" Well, to get into that mindset Rockets fans need to take a firm look at the NBA landscape and their place in it.
Parsons fixed none of the Rockets shortcomings.
Last season the Rockets exhibited a glaring lack of defense, the need for a defensive power forward, and a sustainable bench. Parsons' role as a player was never going to have a bearing on the power forward position so we won't address that yet.
Game after game opposing guards and wings shredded the Rockets backcourt. Chandler Parsons, James Harden, and Jeremy Lin struggled mightily to rein in opposing wing players. The addition of Patrick Beverley will help to address the issue however, Beverley will struggle to guard the Kevin Durants and Lebron James of the NBA (As all players do). While Parsons put in work and effort on opposing wing players when you compare his impact to Trevor Ariza you see the differences are night and day. Throughout his career, Trevor Ariza has been an exemplary defender. Parsons entered the league as a quality defender but quickly unlearned that trait for the run and gun Rockets. Now, thinking critically, Ariza is a defensive wing player with a specialty in the corner three.
The Rockets now sport quality defenders at the point, the small forward, and center. Parsons wasn't going to play the power forward in Houston so he would not have addressed the issues there. Now, take this one step further, the Rockets could have paid Chandler Parsons $15 million to not solve their defensive issues or pay Trevor Ariza $8 million (On a DECLINING deal) to solve their defensive issues the rationale for the move becomes even more apparent. On a minutes per game basis Parsons played only 2 minutes more per game than Ariza and their usage rates were negligible. What Ariza brought to the table that Parsons didn't, however, is a 104 (Parsons 108) defensive rating, a 3.7 defensive win share (Parsons at 2.5), and 2 steals per game (Rounded, Parsons rounded to 1). The most important thing that Ariza brings and Parsons would have prohibited, however, is the ability to fill out the bench and seek a power forward replacement.
The contract would have handcuffed the Rockets.
$15 million a year is no small sum. Had the Rockets matched they would have been over the cap. The implications of being over the cap are very real if you're looking to build a team. Houston would have returned its starting line up and gutted its bench. In return, they would have had to fill the rest of their roster without full exceptions and no traded player exceptions (TPE's). Engage in a thought exercise for me for a moment:
Put yourself in Daryl Morey or Kevin McHale's shoes on this one. You are returning the same starting lineup from last year and you traded off your backup point guard/shooting guard and center. That team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. You can't offer competitive salaries against other teams. Sell me on taking a significant pay cut to be a bit player on your team. Go.
If you sincerely tried to engage in that thought exercise you found yourself struggling. As stated above, the Rockets bench struggled mightily to hold onto leads last year. More often than not they blew leads. Had Houston retained Chandler Parsons they would have not been able to address that need while neglecting their defensive woes in the starting lineup. As it stands, the three-year deal at $15 million was offered by Cuban to run concurrent with the contracts of Dwight Howard and James Harden. While that sounds great at the expiration of all the deals it kills flexibility and roster tweaking in the interim. Plainly stated, if the Rockets weren't good enough to win the title this last year then they weren't going to get good enough with those deals on the books. Make no mistake about it, the move was calculated, cold, and understandable.
You may ask "Aren't you a believer in continuity?"
You must continue the right things.
Chandler Parsons is a marvelous person. He's a pretty good small forward, too. He's not, however, a maximum contract small forward in the NBA. Nor is he a player who is likely to take your team to the next level. With the deficiencies facing the Rockets that won't get the job done. As astutely pointed out by nicssin, all teams lauded for continuity (The Lebron Heat, the Spurs, and the Thunder) have had rotating doors outside of their central stars. The Rockets retained Dwight Howard and James Harden, their stars.
One can hope that Chandler Parsons would have evolved into a defensive player and helped the Rockets offense. Parsons came into the league as a defensive player, after all. Pace will help bring about equivalent offensive production in replacements. Volume alone will make that a reality. What the developmental hope ignores, however, is that after three years most players are what they are. Parsons is an efficient offensive power forward and a mediocre to poor defensive player. He's also been in the league three years and had the benefit of James Harden for two of those years. In not matching the Parsons deal the Rockets guaranteed themselves the ability to swap out component parts to complement their stars. Anyone who has read this site knows I'm an advocate for continuity. What they also know is that I'm not an advocate of Atlanta Hawks level continuity (Keep the same core, pray it works out, cap yourself into a corner, and admit defeat). Those who believe the Rockets are worse off today are missing a very important distinction between today and the moment Parsons' option was declined.
The NBA landscape has drastically changed.
Lebron James' return to Cleveland fundamentally altered the formula for winning in the NBA. Three stars are a great idea. It worked well for Miami as it landed them two titles. The Spurs just landed a title (Despite that their three stars is more a 1.5-2 star formation) with a similar set up. Three star lineups in the NBA just went extinct with one announcement. The Rockets are competitive in the two star NBA world. They have the best shooting guard and center in the NBA. The focus now turns to correcting depth issues and defensive problems. Trevor Ariza remedies the defensive issues and cap space helps address the depth issues.
Three stars do make life easier.
More fundamental to this discussion, however, is whether or not Parsons is a third star. If you pay someone star money are they a star? Parsons has been a great addition as a third player for the Rockets. At less than a million dollars a year he was a supreme steal. At $15 million a year, though, is he a steal anymore? In building a team you can't be so blind as to previous appraisal that you lose sight of future projections. When you buy a home to flip it you're looking for a bargain so someone else pays maximum money for it when you're done. You don't turn around and buy it for your maximum money after your investment. Paying Parsons $15 million would've been tantamount to buying the house you tried to flip. Sure, there's sentimental value due to the investment and familiarity but is it worth it? Conjecture about Parsons' value was roughly $11 million a year. The extra four in this case became a dealbreaker.
The offseason isn't over yet.
The Houston Rockets aren't done making moves. They have space, targets, and open communications with other teams. While it's tempting to gauge your offseason assessment vis a vis having Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons it would be foolish to have counted those chickens before they hatched. Losing a player to free agency isn't a sign of getting worse or losing out regardless of the price the player signed for. Parsons received a contract above his market value. Houston declined to handcuff their cap. The Rockets counted on a promise from Chris Bosh that let them down. Paying Parsons at that point would have made sense due to guaranteed contender status with Bosh requiring minimal moves to finish the roster. Parsons, in and of himself, is not valuable as a third star.
Give Daryl time to sort this situation out. This is a GM that has time and time again amazed fans with his trades, signings, and drafts. Counting the offseason as a failure at this point is woefully premature. Pessimism, at this point in the offseason, is inappropriate. What is appropriate, however, is acknowledging that Houston isn't in cap Hell thanks to a difficult decision made by their general manager. What is appropriate is acknowledging that Trevor Ariza for half of the Chandler Parsons contract is a steal. What is appropriate is acknowledging that the Rockets addressed their need for a defensive wing with a three point shot.
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