When the Houston Rockets decided to decline Chandler Parsons' team option, allowing him to hit the open market as a restricted free agent, it was a move meant to satiate general manager Daryl Morey's thirst for star power. Freeing themselves of the small forward's salary was just one of many moves designed to clear up space.
But it was also risky.
Even though the team enjoys nearly all the control when it comes to restricted free agents, Parsons can take advantage of the situation by agreeing to an early contract offer from one of the Association's other 29 teams. As soon as one comes, that is.
After all, the Rockets have committed to pursuing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Everything they've done this offseason has pointed toward clearing up enough financial flexibility to pursue either of the two star forwards.
Omer Asik was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for a 2015 first-round pick, thereby clearing his poison pill from the books. Two of the team's three draft-day selections were international prospects who loom as draft-and-cash candidates. And if that's the case, their salaries won't be contributing to the 2014 cap.
"We’re still working together on the best possible plan for him," Morey said to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, referring to Clint Capela, the team's No. 25 pick. "We have a good track record on developing bigs...We’re going to work together, put together a plan. He is 20-years-old and has a big future. We’re going to do what’s best for all parties."
Nothing has been officially decided about Capela's status for 2014-15, but the very fact he was the player taken indicates a continuing desire to increase the organization's monetary standing.
Everything points toward what Bleacher Report's Howard Beck refers to as "Texas-Sized Offers" for the league's marquee stars:
League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.
With LeBron seeking a max deal, it's getting even tougher for Houston to stay in the picture. The Rockets could trade Jeremy Lin for draft picks, sure, but even that wouldn't be a way to guarantee the King's arrival in Texas.
But even if he gets away, the pursuit of Melo is continuing in full force.
Houston is pulling out all the stops, using visual appeal, as you can see below:
And the meetings have begun, as reported by the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday afternoon:
Carmelo pulled into Toyota Center in a stretch limo where the Rockets contingent of owner Les Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey, head coach Kevin Michale, current All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden, and Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler awaited.
Doesn't sound like they're giving up. However, Parsons could force their hand, and that's why the timing is so important.
What if he signed an offer sheet during the early portion of free agency? He's likely to command a salary that could easily rise into eight figures per year, and his youth is sure to attract quite a few teams. As 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.)
Should Parsons sign that sheet with either the Dallas Mavericks or Chicago Bulls—the two teams ESPN.com's Marc Stein tweets have already expressed interest—the Rockets have three days to decide whether or not they want to match that deal. It's called exercising the right of first refusal, and that strict timeframe would throw a wrench in Houston's plans.
Sure, the Rockets could match anything, but doing so might as well be the death knell in their pursuit of the marquee small forwards. Given the price tag Parsons is sure to command, Houston would have plenty of trouble clearing up necessary cap space for LeBron or Melo while maintaining the roster appeal that would draw them there in the first place.
Essentially, Parsons would force the Rockets into a decision between him and a pursuit that may or may not work. LeBron and Melo likely won't have signed yet, meaning there's still breath in Houston's chase.
Can they afford to let Parsons walk on the hope they land a star? Can they afford to re-sign Parsons when it prevents Morey from acquiring one of the players he covets most?
Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster covered this same situation in early June:
Still, the Rockets are running the risk of losing Parsons if the timing doesn't match up. If the Rockets can't acquire a third star like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love before Parsons signs an offer sheet in restricted free agency, they may have to choose between signing Parsons long-term and losing some of the ability to add a third star to Dwight Howard and James Harden, or simply letting Parsons go.
Talk about a pickle.
And it's a good one for Parsons, as he finally gets to exert some control.
A few months ago, the Florida product presumably could have assumed that he'd be retained at his bargain-bin contract, one paying him less than a million dollars for the 2014-15 season despite his ultra-valuable contributions. But after that, he'd hit the market as an unrestricted free agent, a player finally capable of choosing where he wanted to go.
Now the Rockets can match any offer, but only if they choose to do so. "Can" is the operative word.
However, Parsons can take back some of that control by signing an early deal, especially if he finds a landing spot more conducive to success. There are locations out there in which he could play more than third fiddle—undoubtedly his role with Dwight Howard and James Harden on the roster—while making more money and having a better shot at a title.
"If Parsons wants to join a team where he's given much more responsibility offensively, the Charlotte Hornets wouldn't be a bad destination," writes Foster.
I'll go further than that; the Hornets are the best destination for him.
Not only would he be part of an up-and-coming team while serving as a featured player on both ends of the court, but he'd be playing in the Eastern Conference. Hard as it may be to fathom, the championship odds of a Parsons-aided Hornets team would be greater than the Rockets enjoy while fighting through the Western Conference gauntlet year after year.
That's only one potential destination, though, and Charlotte has yet to express any official interest. Nonetheless, the point stands, as there are plenty of locations in which Parsons could thrive while deciding for himself where he plays the next few years of his career.
Should he wait, this option may no longer present itself. For that very reason, don't be surprised if the former Gator doesn't take much time to become the first restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet this summer.
It's in his best interest to do exactly that.