Houston Rockets Quickly Reveal Logic of Passing on Chandler Parsons

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

USA Today

The Houston Rockets are short one heartthrob after declining to match the Dallas Mavericks' three-year, $46 million offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

And while that news means the cosmetic appeal of general manager Daryl Morey's Rockets takes a significant hit, the gains they'll achieve on the court and in the payroll ledger more than make up for it.

That's no knock on Parsons, a very skilled player who gave the Rockets exactly the kind of shoot-and-slash offensive production they wanted from their wings during his time on the team. But his value was always tied to his dirt-cheap rookie contract, which may have led to an inflated sense of Parsons' worth.

For less than $1 million per year, above-average production is hard to beat.

At $15 million per year, that calculus changes dramatically, and the Rockets just weren't willing to fork over a 1,500-percent raise. Houston liked Parsons at the right price—not any price.

Still, deciding not to match Dallas' offer couldn't have been easy. After losing out on Chris Bosh by what seemed like mere inches, it would have been understandable for the Rockets to panic and do whatever it took to retain one of their most popular players.

Instead, Houston took the smarter route, quickly shifting its focus toward Trevor Ariza. Though the Rockets had been connected to the former Washington Wizards swingman for some time, a deal that would pay him roughly half of Parsons' new annual salary became official literally minutes after news broke about Parsons switching Texas addresses.

A player-to-player comparison of Parsons to Ariza shows the wisdom of that decision:

Trevor Ariza vs. Chandler Parsons in 2013-14

Look, you just can't pay star money to a wing whose stats grade out just above the league average. Yes, Parsons was one of just seven players to average at least 16.0 points, 4.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds last year, per Basketball-Reference.com. That's an argument I made in his favor before concluding he actually wasn't worth big-time bucks.

It's still true now.

Remember, the league-average player efficiency rating is 15.0, per John Hollinger, the stat's creator. By that metric, neither Parsons nor Ariza are elite players.

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 5: Trevor Ariza #1 of the Washington Wizards controls the ball against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 5, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Of course, we can't rely on one catch-all statistic to conclude that the two small forwards are similar in their statistical middle class. We should also note that Parsons is a better passer, younger and has more room to grow than his replacement in Houston.

In addition, Ariza comes with concerns about his effort level after putting together a great run in his contract year with the Wizards—something he's done before.

Ariza, though, is a better defender than Parsons, and he held shooting guards to a PER of 12.1, small forwards to 15.6 and power forwards to 12.1 last season, per 82games.com. Not only that, but he also had an immensely positive overall impact on the Wiz in 2013-14—on both ends of the floor:

Ariza's On and Off-Court Splits
Offensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
Ariza ON108.0104.9+3.1
Ariza OFF103.7108.4-4.7

Parsons wasn't as individually stout as Ariza last season, surrendering PERs of 17.9 to shooting guards, 14.6 to small forwards and 18.1 to power forwards, per 82games.com. Nor was he as positively impactful on Houston's overall performance, as you can see by the defensive dip the Rockets suffered when Parsons was on the floor:

Parsons' On and Off-Court Splits
Offensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
Parsons ON114.3107.9+6.4
Parsons OFF109.2105.6+3.6

So, ultimately, the Rockets let one player go in exchange for another who is at worst very similar and at best, demonstrably superior. And they'll pay that incoming player about half of what the outgoing one would have cost them.

There's risk involved, sure. Ariza's deal is longer, and those age and effort questions are legitimate.

But the price is right.

Let's also not look past the rarity of this whole Parsons situation, which appears to be a win-win for all parties involved. The Mavs got their guy, the Rockets got an asset for below market value and Parsons—if the sentiments he showed immediately after signing his offer sheet with Dallas are any indication—is pretty happy himself:

In the end, the Rockets are probably disappointed they couldn't haul in Bosh, retain Parsons and field a ridiculous starting lineup that would have put them atop the list of contenders in the West. Any outcome, when compared to that sparkling, yet unrealized, possibility seems like a failure.

But the Rockets made the most of a tough situation, changed course on the fly and, perhaps most importantly, seem to be angling for another stab at the next big free-agent target. Per David Aldridge of TNT, Houston is trying to structure the Ariza acquisition as part of a larger deal that will bring back a 2015 protected pick from the New Orleans Pelicans and also send Omer Asik away.

That's a salary dump Houston didn't have to make after the Bosh pursuit fell through.

But leave it to Morey to collect assets, cut costs and position his team for another big swing.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Maybe Houston has designs on one of the remaining free-agent prizes this summer. Or, as would fit more snugly into the Rockets' traditionally bold approach to personnel moves, they could be clearing the runway for Kevin Love next year.

If that overly aggressive, playing-the-long-game pipe dream sounds familiar, it's because Houston makes precisely that kind of play all the time. Letting Parsons go wasn't the Rockets' initial plan, but in adjusting and setting their sights even higher, it might have become part of an even bigger one.


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