Change could be coming for the Houston Rockets.
After general manager Daryl Morey and company declined their option to keep Chandler Parsons on his extremely equitable rookie contract, it’s become time to face the possibility that he could be gone. Parsons is a coveted wingman, and although the Rockets have the right to match any offer sheet during his restricted free agency, another team may offer him a bigger payday than Houston is comfortable with.
The Rockets are likely to match Parson’s offer sheet no matter what. Even if too much money is involved, they’ll want to retain Parsons and flip him for something else in a trade. That’s the only clear read of this latest development, for now: Houston wants to avoid losing its starting small forward for nothing, when he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
Parsons could be gone this offseason but only on something like the Rockets' terms. A team that covets Parsons could simply outbid Houston—anything above $10 million per season would likely get Morey squirming in his seat a bit.
Alternatively, a rival front office could take a roll of the dice and throw out a half-hearted, overly big offer just to ensure Houston has to take action. That's a possibility that can't be ruled out. Since Parsons' availability is a new development, it's unclear just what the market for him is at the moment—who wants him for how much, who doesn't—but he's a talented, charismatic, young player. There is a market; Parsons leaving Houston is a real prospect.
As for who replaces a lost Parsons, one name jumps out of the pack: Carmelo Anthony. The Rockets have been tied to several rumors of the Anthony pursuit. Morey is famous for his ability to pull off superstar coups, and this would be potentially his biggest yet. He’d have to create a lot of cap room that the Rockets don’t have. Getting rid of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin is a start, but he’ll have to do it while taking essentially no salary back.
They’ll also probably have to part with Donatas Motiejunas—a cherished big man prospect—and somehow unload Francisco Garcia’s contract as well. All, again, without taking money back. Then they’ll be near the $18 million range of free cap space needed to sign Anthony. The path to ‘Melo is a tough one, but it’s not impossible.
Anthony’s fit in Parsons’ place would be interesting. A shoot-first forward who’s earned the right to be one with his impressive scoring acumen, he’d be taking a lot of touches away from both James Harden and Dwight Howard. He’s also never had an impact on the perimeter defensively, which is exactly where the Rockets are most wanting.
That being said, Anthony is a superstar. If he comes to town and can figure out a healthy balance with Harden and Howard, the Rockets will be a scary team and a likely title contender. There will be as much talent in Houston as there is anywhere in the league. It might take some time to build the chemistry, but it’s hard to argue against bringing in another talent of Anthony's stature.
As Bleacher Report’s Michael Pina puts it: “The Rockets desperately need perimeter defense (check) and a veteran with on-court leadership qualities (check) who’s familiar with deep playoff runs (triple check).” Deng is a great fit for the Rockets. And they’d have to shuffle salary to make room for him but not nearly as much.
Shawn Marion is another available forward, with qualities similar to Deng’s. The convenient wrinkle here, however, is that Marion is cheaper. He’s 36 years old and might even be attainable in the veteran’s minimum pay range.
He’s got championship experience with the Dallas Mavericks, has played in a similar offense to Houston’s with the Phoenix Suns and is a historically excellent defender. If the Rockets are convinced Marion has enough left in the tank, he’d be a great get.
Andrei Kirilenko and Trevor Ariza are the two best remaining names on our list. Both are lockdown perimeter defenders, and both are free agents. Kirilenko seems like the more likely candidate, since Ariza just came off his best season in years and will see some overly high bids as a 28-year-old.
Kirilenko, to the contrary, is 33. He also just took less money to play with the Brooklyn Nets instead of the Minnesota Timberwolves last year—ostensibly for the competitive advantage of being in the Eastern Conference. But the Nets underutilized Kirilenko in the playoffs, and he may be looking to join a squad more in need of his skills. The Rockets, clearly, fit that bill.
Whether it be through the earth-shaking acquisition of Anthony or a more subtle pickup, the Rockets have options at small forward beyond Chandler Parsons. Saying goodbye to such a young, talented player, and one who's been such an important part of their personality, would be hard. But these are the growing pains of the NBA, and Houston can survive this one.