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Epilogue: The Houston Rockets’ Chandler Parsons decision

Sufficient time has elapsed now since the Houston Rockets’ decision to not match the offer sheet signed by Chandler Parsons that I am confident it was the correct course of action.  I guess what they say is true: the passage of time truly does distance emotion.

Regarding Parsons’ earlier comments this week aimed towards the Rockets: Initially, he clearly does not have much of a grasp of the rules within which the Rockets were needing to operate.  They had him “wait around” for Bosh and ‘Melo because exercising his bird rights last was the only way they could make maximum use of the cap space at hand.  Either that point entirely escaped him or he simply couldn’t understand why the team would prefer adding another good player along with keeping him rather than just keeping him and calling it a day.  If its the latter, that’s perhaps an even more damning indictment of Chandler.

But setting all of that aside, the crux of the matter is that Parsons felt he was disrespected and deserving of a bigger role; he says he wanted to be viewed as a franchise player.  That’s perfectly fine and reasonable: one would hope for such competitive pride from a professional athlete in the prime of his earnings.  But for our purposes, that perception of course falls far from the reality.  There’s no use really belaboring the obvious and it would be unfair to pile on.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows Chandler Parsons is not a franchise player or probably even the third best player on a championship team.  He could not even win his matchup of “third best player vs. third best player” last May against Nic Batum of the Blazers.

But how to properly assess Parsons?  I wrote on September 1, 2013:

It’s important to clarify here upon the distinction between actual and relative value.  Parsons’ value lies in his contract.  To wit, he is–bar none–the single best value contract in the entire league.  But if that salary were regularized across all players with an inspection upon solely on-court merits, then of course, much of that value diminishes.  I have almost no doubt that if, when Parsons’ contract is up, the team were in the same position that they found themselves in last summer–headed nowhere–and faced with a similar decision as they did with Goran Dragic, they would choose to let Parsons walk–as they did Dragic–rather than shell out market value.  Because they will not be in that similar situation, things get more interesting.

Ultimately, in that piece, I concluded that in a vacuum, Chandler Parsons was not worth even $10 million per annum, but if faced with the choice, on this team, Daryl Morey would comply.  I obviously was not expecting a $15 million offer.

As I noted in that 2013 piece, Parsons quickly became extremely overrated upon the Dwight Howard signing as numerous publications mentioned him as part of a Big 3.  That trend has continued this summer in the commentary pursuant to his pay raise.  Parsons isn’t a star and never will be.  He lacks the physical attributes necessary to indicate future growth.  While he could improve his dribbling, he’s simply too slow to ever beat anyone off the dribble.  The brunt of his production comes by way of filling the gaps: he can run the floor, shoot off the catch, and curl around screens.  Square him up against a defender, with a live dribble, and he’s finished.

The most damning example of Parsons’ limitations is the January 24th home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, a career-night in which Chandler hit a record ten threes.  With the game on the line, and Parsons having been on fire all night off catch-and-shoots, Kevin McHale did what you’d expect Kevin McHale’s mind to do: he put the ball directly in Chandler’s hands, in isolation, to decide the game.  Naturally, Parsons was snuffed out, not even getting off a good look on multiple attempts.*

*A sidenote: this occasion was sadly, more than an indictment on Parsons, an indictment on the gross and total ineptitude of Kevin McHale.  It’s one of those instances where one just asks themselves, “what am I overlooking?  There’s no way he’s this clueless.”  I’ve never played basketball at a high level and I’ve clearly never played in the NBA or coached in the NBA.  Naturally, I err on the side of deference.  If someone is one of the fifty greatest to have ever done it, and he does something completely bewildering, then my natural course is to assume I’m missing something.  It’s like the Parsons opt-out.  I know Morey’s smart.  So when he did something so perplexing, I knew I had to be missing something.  Lo and behold, it has since come out that letting Parsons out a year early was likely a precondition set by Dan Fegan prior to the Dwight Howard signing.  Same thing here: this was so bewildering, as is the case with most of McHale’s out of timeout plays, that I simply had to be missing something.  It’s like you can almost follow the train of thought in his head as the hampster runs on the wheel: “hmm, Chandler has hit ten threes off spot-ups.  Naturally, he’s hot – give him the ball to end it”….completely oblivious to the circumstances through which the shots were made!  But enough on this.

I think Parsons can improve in Dallas.  He’ll certainly have the best coaching of his career, at least since his rookie season under Rick Adelman.  His stats might decline, however, as some of his production can be taken as pace-inflated.  And there are some hidden strengths in his game that a good coach will pick up on and put to use.  I noticed several times last season, that surprisingly, despite his lanky frame, Parsons has very good balance and body control in the post.  If I’m Dallas, that facet of Parsons’ game is one I’d explore more deeply than the handful of possessions he was given here in Houston.

He’s also no doubt a capable ball-handler in the pick&roll and usually makes the right decision.  With Carlisle’s creativity (there’s much on the internet to read about Dallas’ efforts in making Monta Ellis as dangerous as ever), you can envision Chandler featured in some highly intricate attacks.  Here in Houston, with perhaps the best pick&roll combo in basketball, the Rockets naturally only ran the play what seemed like a handful of times the entire year.

Losing Parsons hurts.  If keeping him meant they couldn’t further improve the team, then letting him go was the right decision.  But losing him hurts.  Today, they’re a worse team, if for no other reason than that they lost their longest tenured player.  All of the chemistry built between the incumbent players is gone, as if it never even happened.  It will take time now, at the expense of wins, to gain familiarity with new faces.  But with Chandler they had a ceiling.  If they didn’t feel they could improve the team, they couldn’t pay him what he was asking.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.