Let's allow Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears to take it away for a moment:
The Rockets are interested in re-signing Parsons, league sources said, but his future could also be affected by what happens to Golden State Warriors forward Klay Thompson and New York Knicks free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are still interested in acquiring Thompson in a blockbuster trade that would send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Warriors, a source said. But the T’wolves also have secondary interest in Parsons, the source said. If the Thompson trade doesn’t happen, the source said Minnesota could attempt a deal sending Love to the Rockets and acquire Parsons in a sign-and-trade.
Interesting. Very, very interesting.
More to the point, very, very possible.
General manager Daryl Morey has perfectly positioned his Rockets to make a run at one or more superstars this summer, and the Minnesota Timberwolves' purported interest in Parsons could be just the bait he needs to turn soaring ambitions into reality.
More Money, Less Problems
For years, Parsons fell well short of being a valuable trade asset.
Sure, he's emerged as one of the league's bright young forwards. Yes, he joined LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Michael Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook as the only NBA players to average at least 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and one steal per game last season. But his salary put the Rockets at a distinct disadvantage during trade negotiations.
Earning well under $1 million annually, Parsons was an impact role player and fringe star playing on a second-round draft pick's dime. He couldn't be flipped for another superstar. He couldn't even act as the centerpiece of a deal without being accompanied by players on more substantial contracts. Getting adequate value in return for his services has always been next to impossible.
By declining Parsons' team option worth just under $965,000, the Rockets have made him a restricted free agent.
This not only gives them the ability to re-sign him while matching any offer he receives but it allows them to use him in a sign-and-trade since he's due for a gigantic pay raise, as the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen explains:
Parsons will go from the $964,750 he was scheduled to make to a contract that could start at more than $10 million. (For comparison sake, Portland’s Nicolas Batum signed a four-year $46 million offer sheet that the Trail Blazers matched when he was a restricted free agent.)
Signing at more than 10 times his current rate enables the Rockets to flip him for a more expensive player. Love, for example, is slated to earn roughly $15.7 million next season. Dealing Parsons at $10-12 million (or more) annually fills a majority of the financial stipulations imposed on trades.
Parsons, of course, won't be enough on his own. The Timberwolves won't agree to pay him $15 million annually just to match salaries, and even if they were willing to, the Rockets still need to send back other assets in return.
That's where prospects like Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas come in.
Offering any combination of those assets in conjunction with Parsons makes for a competitive proposal—especially now.
The Timberwolves' options are somewhat limited this side of the draft.
Teams like the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns that planned on dangling packages starring 2014 first-rounders are no longer firmly in the hunt. Not unless they drafted to satisfy the Timberwolves' needs—an unlikely occurrence given the number of conflicting reports pertaining to Love's availability.
The Golden State Warriors' steadfast refusal to include Klay Thompson in negotiations hasn't helped their case, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. Unless they relent on their current stance, an amalgamation of David Lee, Harrison Barnes and a future first-round pick, among other assets, isn't too attractive.
A club like the Chicago Bulls could get involved, but they've been all Carmelo Anthony everything of late. Their offer leading into the draft—Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and the No. 16 and 19 picks, per ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required)—reeks of a team ill-prepared to field their best offer for a potential flight risk, too.
If said options are all that's out there at the moment, acquiring a freshly locked up Parsons—a sharpshooting stretch forward, not completely dissimilar to Love—ably helps them hit the reset button on their longstanding rebuild. And it gives the Rockets a third superstar to pair with James Harden and Kevin Love.
Timed just right, it could even serve as a precursor to the arrival of a fourth.
Now I've got jokes? Yes, yes I do. But this isn't one of them.
Morey's initial free-agency plan has the Rockets keeping Parsons and landing a third superstar, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck expands upon their scheme here; yours truly explores it some more here.
Numerically speaking, it gets complicated. There are cap holds to factor in and salary dumps to wage. Available cap space will vary by the scenario. But creating the necessary cap space that gets them in the superstar-stealing conversation is possible.
Part of this grand plan is already in motion. The Dream Shake's Patrick Harrel provides the juicy deets:
On the eve of free agency, the Rockets are scraping together every penny they can find to field as close to a max offer as possible. Today, that job just got easier. After declining Troy Daniels' option earlier today, the team officially got word from Francisco Garcia that he will decline his player option for 2014-15, forgoing over $1.3 million in salary and giving the Rockets over $800,000 in additional cap space.
There is an outrageous importance to the Rockets' aggressive free-agency ventures. Signing a star like Anthony or LeBron James before landing Love increases the chances that he'll re-sign next summer.
Remember, he is going to reach free agency no matter what. It's financially sensible. Even a team sitting pretty, like the Rockets, has to worry about him leaving. It's difficult to ship out one of your most valuable assets—especially one you can keep long term—if there's no guarantee it culminates in more than a one-year rental.
Landing that third superstar gives the Rockets peace of mind and, most importantly, the inside track on retaining the established superstar their blossoming star is supposed to land.
Parsons Promises Nothing and Everything
Not one bit of this is likely. It's possible, but don't go tattooing Kevin Love Rockets jerseys on your derriere just yet.
Snatching two superstars this summer—as in one before Love—will be tricky. The Rockets cannot trade guys like D-Mo and T-Jones if they, too, must be unloaded to offer an Anthony or James a contract.
Parsons' complicity in any scenario is paramount as well. It could be the Rockets are trying to trade for Love after signing one superstar; it could be that they've reached Love or bust status—it doesn't matter. Either way, the Rockets need Parsons' help.
If he signs an offer sheet with another team, he cannot be traded. The Rockets can match his contract, but all sign-and-trade possibilities are left dead where they sit.
Convincing Parsons to hold off on exploring the semi-open market will be the Rockets' greatest obstacle. Maybe he waits around if he knows they're trying to pair him, Harden and Howard with a star free agent, but if he gets wind that he's being used as trade bait, he can force their hand.
“I’m not recruiting anybody until I figure out my contract,” he said, via Feigen.
Changing his mind could be possible if the Rockets somehow promise him an above-market contract for remaining patient. Doing that might bide them time to hash out other plans. But then they have to bank on the Timberwolves wanting to pay Parsons whatever they give him. Things get dicey there.
Their glaring inability to take back one of Minnesota's bad contracts—J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin, etc.—will invariably impede any deal. Parsons, Jones and Motiejunas barely make enough to account for Love's salary, let alone an inflated wage or two.
Even so, the Rockets do have a leg up on the competition.
Minny is interested in who would be their primary trade piece. That's the first step.
The next, most difficult step has the Rockets going from there, figuring out the lay of free-agency land and whether they see Parsons as part of their future or collateral damage in a bigger, better, more regal vision.
*Salary information via ShamSports.