It's easy to understand why you might label the Houston Rockets' offseason a complete disaster. The risks that were taken were substantial ones, and the goals were awfully ambitious, but even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Even with that being the case, the Rockets now have the kind of flexibility that general manager Daryl Morey has proven to be dangerous with in the past.
How did Houston get where they are now? It all started with the decision on Chandler Parsons. Instead of simply accepting his team option and keeping Parsons on a salary below $1 million for the 2014-15 season, the Rockets chose to decline it in order to make him a restricted free agent.
It was easy to see the incentive in doing that. All the Rockets would have to do is clear cap space, sign a third star and then bring back Parsons in addition to that player.
Unsurprisingly, Houston moved fast to accomplish that. Omer Asik was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first-round draft pick despite the bloated salary due him ($15 million). The trade was held up because of the salary cap coming in lower than projected, which threw a bit of a wrench into plans as they had to rework the deal later on.
Houston then paid the Los Angeles Lakers to take Jeremy Lin, essentially, clearing the requisite space to make a big splash. All the ducks were lined up in a row.
When LeBron James left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it looked like that was the opening Houston needed to land Chris Bosh. He'd be returning back to his home state of Texas, and he'd be playing with a much better supporting cast. Sure, there'd be less money in it for him, but the Rockets could offer a legitimate chance at titles with him on board.
ESPN sources say Rockets promised Bosh they would match on Parsons if he committed and believed they were on brink of commitment from Bosh— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 14, 2014
Would Houston have done all the positioning and dumping of contracts without the belief that Bosh or Carmelo Anthony were realistic possibilities? Probably not.
"We had the offer out there to Chris (Bosh), it looked extremely likely that he was going to take it," Morey told The Proper Gentlemen of Sports show on 790 AM in Houston.
When Bosh re-signed in Miami for the max, things got ugly. The Dallas Mavericks had already put in an offer sheet on Chandler Parsons, and it was unsurprisingly a potentially damaging deal. The Mavs knew that to keep Houston from matching they would have to make a big offer in size and one that limited Chandler's appeal as a trade target by including a player option.
The Rockets chose to let Parsons go to Dallas on Sunday because they believed that with the contracts held by Parsons, Howard and James Harden they would be essentially locked out of other moves, a person with knowledge of the decision said.
They instead opted to take the hit in exchange for the flexibility, with several potential deal-making moves, believing their chances of building a contender would be better with the ability to make other moves. ...
Parsons' contract also would have been essentially untradeable, taking him out as a potential piece of a trade. He cannot be traded until Jan. 15 and must give his approval for any trade after that next season. Because he can opt out of the contract after two seasons, he would have been unlikely to be sought by a team moving a star player because Parsons would have the ability to leave as a free agent.
This couldn't have been an easy decision. Parsons was at the core of what Houston did offensively the last few years, and it's never ideal to let a young player with his potential go to a fellow contender. When you consider the Rockets could have kept Parsons for cheap just by simply accepting his team option, this has to sting.
The reasons for not matching his huge offer are sound, however. One of the most dangerous things a franchise can do is overestimate their chances and trade off all flexibility prematurely. Could the Rockets contend for a title with a locked-in core of James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard? Perhaps, but it was no sure thing.
Here's Derek James of Hardwood Paroxysm:
Perhaps things would have been different had Anthony decided to walk away from $30 million. Or if Chris Bosh did have a last minute change of heart due to some loyalty felt to Dwyane Wade, or last minute convincing from Pat Riley, or something. Any of those chips falling a different way may have drastically altered the course of the Rockets’ summer, but instead they’re left scurrying to keep as many pieces together as they can of their shattered hopes.
One of the scramble moves was to acquire free-agent wing Trevor Ariza to a four-year deal worth $32 million in a sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards.
Ariza is a valuable three-and-D guy, although there are legitimate concerns that his great season was a "contract year" performance.
Still, Ariza is an upgrade defensively for the Rockets, and he's on a much cheaper deal. Parsons is the better overall player, but not when you factor in his new salary.
Honestly, the Jeremy Lin contract dump's needing a future first-round pick attached is the only glaring mistake from an on-court standpoint, as the Rockets received nothing for something. Asik likely wouldn't have been all that happy, and getting a valuable draft pick for him in return was wise, even if it just creates another hole.
What's important to realize here, though, is that Houston is far from out of the game. Losing Parsons, Asik and Lin might have taken them out of serious contention, but there's still time on the clock for Morey to pull off something huge. There are draft picks to deal, Asik's trade exception to use and over $10 million in cap room to utilize in free agency or with a trade.
So look for Rockets to re-enter trade game for longtime Houston target Rajon Rondo as well as try to work their way into mix for Kevin Love— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 14, 2014
Even though it backfired, at least temporarily, this was a risk worth taking. Bosh or Anthony would have made the Rockets serious contenders, but the fallout from missing on them doesn't have to be franchise-crippling.
Kevin Love is still on the trade market, and the Rockets could use a star power forward who can stretch the floor. For as good of a fit as Bosh would have been, and for as talented as Anthony is, it's Love who is the best combination of both.
Even if he isn't a realistic target, at some point there will be a star out there available for acquisition. It happened with Harden, it happened with Howard, and although it stings to be patient, it will happen again.
Flexibility is king in the NBA, and although this offseason didn't work out nearly as planned, a team with two locked-up young stars, cap space and assets to deal isn't likely to stay down for all that long.