Houston, We Have a Problem

by Spencer Suk & Jordan Lee

gettyimages.com

gettyimages.com

A few days ago, the Rockets officially declined their team option on Chandler Parsons, making him a restricted free agent (meaning they can match any contract Chandler agrees to with another team and retain him).  Parsons was due just $964,000 on the final year of his rookie deal, which would have made him one of the biggest bargains of the 2014-15 season.  So why in the world did the Rockets put their third best player on the open market where he will likely earn an 8-figure salary, when they could have had him for less than all these things?

Before we delve into Parsons’ free agency, let’s take a look at just how valuable Chandler’s contract could have been with a game of who would you want the most:

Info from basketball-reference.com

Info from basketball-reference.com

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Done deciding?

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Well here goes…

It seems to be a close one.  First, let’s look at Players A and B (Player C will be discussed later in this paper).  The stats show Player A is a better rebounder and defender (note: it is very risky to rate a player’s defense with stats, but Player A is certainly the better defender), while Player B is a slightly better passer and much more efficient shooter.

So what if I told you Player A is Josh Smith and Player B is (wait for it….) Chandler Parsons.  And now add on the fact that Player A got paid $13,500,000 last season (and is due the same amount this year) compared to Player B’s $926,500.  If any of you are still sticking with Player A, it’s probably time to stop reading this article.

Now, back to the main question: why didn’t the Rockets just accept Chandler’s team option?  It’s actually more complicated than you think.  So we’re going to break it down with a quick back and forth:

Jordan Lee :  It seems the Rockets declined the team option on Chandler so that he would become a restricted free agent this year.  This essentially guarantees Chandler will be suiting up in a Rockets uniform for the foreseeable future as long as the Rockets are willing to match any offer he accepts.  If they had accepted their team option, Chandler would have become an unrestricted free agent next summer, giving the Rockets much less control over the situation.  On top of that, Chandler has a chance to boost his value (and contract) even higher if he has another good season next year.

Spencer Suk : While I agree that declining his team option could be the smart move, are we really sure no team is going to try to pry Chandler Parsons out of the Rockets’ hands?  Let’s take a look at Player C from above. 

Player C turns out to be Gordon Hayward, who is currently also a restricted free agent.  Parsons and Hayward are very comparable players, and the stats tend to agree except in terms of shooting efficiency.  But this is more a result of their respective roles on their teams.  Gordon Hayward was the number one option on a pathetic Jazz team, which inflated the volume of his stats a bit, but his field goal efficiency suffered as a result.  Parsons, on the other hand, plays with two perennial All-Stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden.  This allows Parsons to utilize his diverse skill set more efficiently because he is the third option: he is able to make plays within the flow of the offense, rather than having to make difficult, contested plays at the end of the shot clock like Hayward.

Info from basketball-reference.com

Info from basketball-reference.com

Now consider the fact that rumors say the Charlotte Hornets are contemplating offering Hayward a max contract.  This will leave the Jazz with the difficult decision of overpaying a good player or losing him for nothing.  There is nothing guaranteeing the exact same thing won’t happen to Parsons.  In restricted free agency, all it takes is one team to mess up a player’s market value.  Just look at what the Rockets did with Asik and Lin!

Jordan Lee :  I agree that the Rockets could possibly lose Parsons, even as a restricted free agent.  But again, at least the Rockets will have the final say if Parsons decides to sign elsewhere.  The worst possible scenario for the Rockets would be if another team offered Parsons a max contract.  If the Rockets matched the offer, Parsons would be overpaid, but still be an extremely valuable contributor to the team.  Parsons’ game is extremely valuable (like Kawhi) because he is one of the few players that has the ability to play without the ball.  While he is unselfish, he is always eager to capitalize on good opportunities when defenses concentrate on Howard and Harden.  Houston is probably hoping that Parsons is willing to take a 4-year 40 million dollar deal.

Also, if the Rockets are able to land a superstar such as Carmelo Anthony before Parsons signs, the Rockets will be able to go over the salary cap, as the team owns his Bird Rights.

Spencer Suk :  If the Rockets would be able to sign Carmelo Anthony (and then re-sign Parsons), it would be a dream come true.  However, there are a few hurdles for the Rockets:

1.     The most obvious obstacle is luring a superstar over.  There are many teams with cap (in attractive markets like New York and Los Angeles) that will be bidding hard on these elite players.

2.     Houston would have to shed cap; they would need to find a taker for Jeremy Lin’s $14,898,938 contract and probably move another asset or two.

3.     The Rockets would have to lock up a superstar BEFORE Chandler Parsons agrees to a deal with another team.  If Parsons signs a contract with another team before the Rockets could lure a superstar over, Parsons’ salary would immediately eliminate the Rockets’ cap space if Houston decided to match the offer; thus, the Rockets would no longer be able to pursue another star.  In essence, the Rockets are showing a lot of trust in Chandler Parsons to not sign a lucrative deal elsewhere before they have a chance to pursue other All-Stars.

JL & SS : Overall, this is a risky move.  By simply accepting Parsons’ team option this year, the Rockets could have locked up one of the best role players in the league for less than a million dollars.  However, by declining their team option, the Rockets could possibly lock up another superstar and Chandler Parsons for the long haul, adding to a daunting core that already includes Dwight Howard and James Harden.  Daryl Morey has made many clever moves during his tenure as general manager.  Now let’s see if he outsmarted the rest of the league again, or if he finally outsmarted himself.