It’s been a rough summer for the Houston Rockets.
After whiffing in their pursuit of Chris Bosh, losing Chandler Parsons to the rival Dallas Mavericks and shipping off key rotation players Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for no immediate return, the team’s image has taken a sizable hit.
General manager Daryl Morey was wildly successful over the past two offseasons, snatching up James Harden and Dwight Howard when few people thought either would leave their teams. Morey assembled a contender in what seemed like a snap of the fingers. But his coup was actually the result of years spent dedicated to firm, wise market principles.
Those principles are as intact as ever today. Though the Rockets lost more star power than they gained in recent months, Morey’s also maintained the shrewd financial flexibility that made his previous splashes possible.
By passing on Parsons’ exorbitant three-year, $46 million offer from Mark Cuban and the Mavs and not overcommitting to lesser options, the Rockets remain in the mix for coveted players down the line. Letting Parsons become a free agent didn't go Morey's way, but losing him was a risk Morey calculated and eventually accepted. From Yahoo! Sports’ Kelly Dwyer:
This is, as NBA fans know, Rocket general manager Daryl Morey’s style. He routinely spins forward assets in the hopes of pouncing on any available big fish, knowing that this is always a star-driven league. Once the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady pairing finally wore down in 2009, Morey has constantly been reshuffling his team in the hopes that future carrots would lead to eventual chomps. The next trade deadline. The next draft. The next summer. Just before training camp. You just wait.
The recent reports of Rajon Rondo’s eagerness to leave the Boston Celtics are as a good a reminder of this as anything. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan stated a strong belief that the prolific point is looking to get out. "It will happen because he's told them he wants out, and no one believes me but that's the truth," MacMullan said.
The Rockets are on a short list of teams that would be a good fit for Rondo. Trying to make the money work between Houston and Boston would be very difficult, especially given that Rondo has only one year left on his current deal. But if the Rockets had held onto Parsons, swapping for Rondo would’ve been all but unimaginable.
And while the team will be hurt in the short term by losing the contributions of Lin and Asik, they’ve also dodged the bullet of basketball purgatory. If they’d retained both and made Parsons their top priority, the Rockets would’ve essentially committed to their current core as their definitive championship-seeking squad.
The notion that Houston—as constructed in 2013-14—is a true title contender is at best dubious. The historically tough nature of today’s Western Conference means the Rockets probably need major help before they can make it to the NBA Finals. Given the Mavericks’ offer, Parsons could only have remained put if he was paid like a third star—but Morey knew he wasn’t.
New Rockets wingman Trevor Ariza is an equivalent or arguably slightly worse player. Ariza is only behind Parsons in the categories of youth and shot creation—he’s demonstrably better as a defender and three-point shooter. But because Ariza wasn’t an unrestricted free agent like Parsons was, Morey was able to pay him market value. In other words, roughly half of what Dallas gave Parsons. Ariza’s making $32 million over four years on his new deal.
Ariza isn’t the popular, celebrated entity Parsons was. Just like newly important reserves Isaiah Canaan and Donatas Motiejunas (the likely heirs to Lin and Asik’s roles, respectively) aren’t getting any Rockets fans overwhelmingly excited. But everyone who’s not a superstar is a role player in Morey’s pocketbook—his actions say so, anyway—and all who aren’t world class are replaceable.
Therein lies the catch to modern Houston fandom. Loving players becomes difficult when all men are exchangable pieces in a championship-bound puzzle. No matter the impact of any Rocket, they’re all replaceable so long as the team’s bottom line leads then anywhere short of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
For Rockets fans hoping for gold, this is good news, regardless of the present picture. Because with Morey, the larger perspective is smartly bent toward the very best.