Updates from Saturday, June 28
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports confirms initial reports that the Rockets will decline Parsons' option:
With the Houston Rockets having a fourth-year option for Chandler Parsons that would pay him a paltry $964,750 for the 2014-15 season, most expected it'd be a no-brainer for them to bring him back at that price.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Rockets instead plan to decline Parsons' option and allow him to hit restricted free agency this summer. Wojnarowski cites sources close to the situation, and Houston has understandably not commented on the situation.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle provides more details and confirmation of the expected move:
In perhaps the clearest sign of the Rockets’ plans for free agency next month, the Rockets are likely to allow forward Chandler Parsons to become a restricted free agent in the hopes that they could sign a major free agent and then go over the salary cap to retain Parsons, a person with knowledge of their thinking said on Tuesday.
The Rockets have until June 30—the day before NBA free agency begins—to formally decide on the option. There is no incentive for either side to push for a formal announcement either way, given the NBA's onerous tampering bylaws.
Parsons, 25, averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists during the 2013-14 season, his third in the NBA.
The No. 38 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Parsons has emerged as one of the league's best values—thanks in large part to his team-friendly contract. Houston signed Parsons to a four-year, $3.63 million contract after the draft, a healthy portion of which was nonguaranteed. Because he was not waived by Jan. 1, the Rockets will have to pay $624,771 of Parsons' $964,750 regardless of their decision.
But the savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars has little to do with why the Rockets would decline a cheap option on a very good young player. Their decision comes largely down to two factors: flexibility and leverage.
By allowing Parsons to hit the open market this summer, the Rockets are 100 percent in control of his destination. Potential suitors will have the chance to send him an offer sheet, which Houston can then match with zero implications. Had Parsons played out next season under his current contract, he would have been an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. The Rockets then would have risked losing him without compensation.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Parsons told reporters last month, when asked about his preference between restricted and unrestricted free agency. “The biggest thing for me is to win. When you win, you get whatever you want. We had a chance to do that this year and didn’t do it. Restricted, unrestricted, it doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to be in a good situation. I want to be on a winning team."
Should Parsons find that team elsewhere, at the very least general manager Daryl Morey could swing a sign-and-trade with a Parsons suitor—a quid pro quo for not matching the offer sheet. The Pelicans did this last summer by engineering a three-way deal to acquire Tyreke Evans.
Morey very likely has a longer-term game in mind.
Adding Parsons to the free-agent field might make him an attractive sign-and-trade piece in a potential deal for a third superstar. Morey has not been shy about his desire to add another star-level player to go with Dwight Howard and James Harden.
While Parsons is a very good young player, he's not at that level as an asset. Having Harden and Parsons on the floor together makes defensive cogency a difficult task, given both players' struggles on that end. Harden's defense was so bad at points during the regular season it became an Internet meme. Parsons is not quite as bad, but Houston's defensive foibles can mostly be attributed to its leaky perimeter.
Wojnarowski reported last month that the Rockets are planning an "aggressive play" for disgruntled Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. The All-Star big man does not fit the defensive need, but he certainly fits the superstar moniker. Declining Parsons' option might be the beginning of that aggression. Minnesota trading Love for one year of Parsons (and other assets) is far-fetched; doing so with the assurance of a Parsons sign-and-trade may be more amenable.
The Rockets also have the option of using financial finagling to bring back Parsons and another high-profile piece. Trading Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin—and their $15 million balloon payments for next season—would give them near max-level room. If Houston agrees to terms with a big-time free agent first and then matches a Parsons offer sheet, a best-of-both-worlds scenario emerges.
Or this could just be a power play.
The Rockets by all accounts like Parsons. He's a unique offensive talent, a smart passer who spreads the floor beautifully and won't turn 26 until October. Restricted free agency inherently limits a player's market because teams are afraid of holding out three days while the incumbent team decides. Morey might be looking to snag Parsons long-term on a below-market contract while fishing for his third star elsewhere.
Either way, this is an interesting decision that again makes the Rockets a team to watch this summer.