Houston Rockets Keeping Chandler Parsons Hinges on Superstar Pursuit

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Houston Rockets Keeping Chandler Parsons Hinges on Superstar Pursuit
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Ever since Chandler Parsons was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2011, he's steadily improved. 

2013-14 was his best season yet, as the former second-round pick averaged an impressive 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. The young forward established himself as one of the more versatile players in the NBA, capable of drilling three-pointers, handling the ball on the wings and locking down multiple positions on the defensive end. 

But it might not be enough to keep him in Houston, as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported:

The Houston Rockets plan to decline the fourth-year option on forward Chandler Parsons' contract, freeing him to become a restricted free agent this summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets hold a $960,000 option on the fourth and final year of Parsons' contract for the 2014-'15 season, but want to avoid letting Parsons, 25, become an unrestricted free agent next summer. As a restricted free agent in July, the Rockets can match an offer sheet and retain Parsons on a long-term contract.

The Rockets have until June 30 to formally decline the option.

The unrestricted free agency argument is certainly a valid one, but there's far more to it than that. 

Just as is so often the case in the Association, everything hinges on the superstars. 

 

The Parsons Situation

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Parsons, on the contract he would've enjoyed had the Rockets decided to pick up his team option, would've been one of the most underpaid players in the NBA. According to ShamSports.com, he was set to make $964,750 during the 2014-15 season.

Seriously. That's it. 

The Rockets have benefitted from Parsons dramatically exceeding the expectations typically associated with a second-round pick, and they had the luxury of paying him a rookie-scale wage all the while. Last year, he made only $926,500. 

Just look at how much money he made per stat last year, as compared to a certain LeBron James: 

Varying Values
2013-14 Salary $ per Point $ per Rebound $ per Assist $ per Minute
Parsons $926,500 $755.71 $2,265.28 $3,109.06 $332.91
LeBron $19,067,500 $9,127.57 $35,773.92 $39,072.75 $6,570.47

Granted, LeBron is on a totally different level, but that's still a gigantic disparity. 

So, why is Houston giving up such a massive bargain? Let's have Wojnarowski handle this one with a rather succinct summary

For the Rockets, there are two distinct advantages to letting Parsons into restricted free agency now. First, Houston is determined to clear the necessary salary cap space this summer to chase a third maximum contract free agent to join Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.

And now, let's elaborate. 

 

Superstars are the 1st Priority 

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Can the Rockets win a title with Dwight Howard and James Harden leading the charge? 

Possibly, but the presence of a third max player will certainly help things. 

Throughout the 2013-14 season, Parsons was the No. 3 guy in Houston, and he performed admirably in that role. But, as evidenced by the first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, it's going to be rather difficult for the Rockets to achieve their ultimate goal without an upgrade. 

Could that upgrade come by waiting for Parsons, who is only 25 years old, to improve? Sure, but it's easier to be proactive and acquire another superstar, assuming that's a possibility. 

And it is. 

Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love will be the primary targets, but let's not rule out a number of other big-name players.

Dirk Nowitzki is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and while it's quite difficult to see him in a new uniform, it would make sense for him to chase a ring at the end of his career. He'd have far more success doing so in Houston than Dallas, given the current roster situations. If Paul Pierce can do it, Dirk can, too.

There's also a pair of potential free agents from the Miami HeatChris Bosh and LeBron James. 

Just think about each of the potential starting fives that we're dealing with here, keeping in mind that the Rockets would have to deal both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to teams with cap space for little return, all in the name of freeing up money for superstars: 

Houston's Lineup Options
PG SG SF PF C
With Parsons Patrick Beverley James Harden Chandler Parsons Terrence Jones Dwight Howard
With Anthony Patrick Beverley James Harden Carmelo Anthony Terrence Jones Dwight Howard
With Love Patrick Beverley James Harden Omri Casspi Kevin Love Dwight Howard
With Nowitzki Patrick Beverley James Harden Omri Casspi Dirk Nowitzki Dwight Howard
With Bosh Patrick Beverley James Harden Omri Casspi Chris Bosh Dwight Howard
With James Patrick Beverley James Harden LeBron James Terrence Jones Dwight Howard

It's hard to imagine the Rockets looking at those lineup options and feeling as though Parsons is the best bet. 

Plus, we can't forget that Daryl Morey loves chasing after stars. The general manager alluded to that when he spoke with Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen during the middle of the 2013-14 campaign: 

We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team. And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don't have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that -- or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.

Although he did acknowledge Parsons' ability to develop into that third player, it's not exactly taking a leap of faith to assume that he'd prefer one of the aforementioned established stars. 

With that in mind, it's easy to see why Houston made this move. 

It's the first step toward achieving as much financial flexibility as possible: acquiring the cap space that's needed to land yet another superstar. But having Parsons as a restricted free agent also allows for another possibility, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale explains

Using Parsons as the centerpiece in a deal for Love, Anthony or someone else becomes more feasible with a sign-and-trade. Parsons gets his new contract, salaries are easier to match up, and as Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver reminded us, the other team isn't left coping with the threat of its prized acquisition leaving in unrestricted free agency one year later.

Essentially, failing to pick up the deal of the former Gator, bargain that it may have been, gives Houston options. 

Keep him, and it's harder to use him in a trade, seeing as he'd become an unrestricted free agent one year later. Allow him to have the ability to sign offer sheets during the offseason, and he's a huge trade chip, one who could even lead to the acquisition of a rostered-but-unhappy player like Love or a rostered-but-potentially-on-the-market player like Paul Millsap.

And, best of all, there's a fallback option if the pursuit of the stars fall through. 

USA TODAY Sports

There's a bit of danger here if Parsons decides to sign an offer sheet right after the moratorium lifts and the transaction portion of the offseason officially begins. According to the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, the Rockets only have three days to decide whether or not they want to exercise the right of first refusal from the day the offer sheet is inked, which obviously puts them in quite a lurch. 

The timing here is of paramount importance, so it's up to Morey and Co. to make a convincing sales pitch to their superstar targets right off the bat. Massively generalizing, there are three possibilities: 

  • Houston signs a superstar, then lets Parsons walk.
  • Houston uses Parsons in a sign-and-trade to get a third member of a "Big Three." 
  • Parsons signs an offer sheet before anything is determined, and Houston is left massively confused about how to proceed. 

The confusion stems from the concern over letting Parsons go and getting nothing. That would be a distinct possibility, seeing as quite a few teams are bound to be vying for the services of these marquee players. Just think about what kept happening to the Dallas Mavericks over the last few offseasons, as they've consistently struck out on their top targets. 

Would it be worth taking that risk? 

It depends on how strongly Morey feels about his chances of landing another star. Letting such a coveted young player go for nothing would be painful, but it would be worth it if the GM is able to increase his franchise's chances of winning a title for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon was leading the charge. 

Will Chandler Parsons play for the Houston Rockets in 2014-15?

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Additionally, there are other free agents out there who could help the Rockets, assuming they still free up that cap space. Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng come to mind, though neither deserves to be in the same category as the players mentioned up above. 

The options are seemingly limitless for these Rockets, but one thing is certain when it comes to the Parsons situation. 

Until the superstar pursuit has played out, his future will be completely mired in uncertainty. 

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