Door #2 - On the eve of the 2014 NBA Finals, still haunted by Damian Lillard every time I close my eyes at night, it’s finally time to come out of hiding and talk some Rockets.
Houston has made the first big personnel move of the not-quite-here-yet offseason by declining the final year of Chandler Parsons’ rookie contract, making him a restricted free agent this summer.
The Rockets hold a $960,000 option on the fourth and final year of Parsons’ contract for the 2014-’15 season, but want to avoid letting Parsons, 25, become an unrestricted free agent next summer. As a restricted free agent in July, the Rockets can match an offer sheet and retain Parsons on a long-term contract.
The Rockets have until June 30 to formally decline the option.
There are many schools of thought as to what Morey might be thinking with this move. The simplest is that Morey just wants to avoid a big-money auction next summer when Parsons and his agent, Dan Fegan, could be looking for the highest bidder. I agree with Rahat completely that Parsons is not worth $12-13 million a year, but small market teams that need the kind of talent and marketability that Parsons brings can’t be counted on to spend wisely. Couldn’t you see Orlando (only Chandler’s childhood team) offer Parsons 4 years, $48 million to be their veteran presence and the face of their young roster? Or a young team (Cleveland, perhaps?) that thinks they are finally ready to make a move into playoff contention could see Parsons’ do-it-all game as the missing piece. I don’t know what would happen were he to actually hit unrestricted free agency next summer, but I do know that if Tyreke Evans can get $11 million a year from the Pelicans, Chandler Parsons would make a pretty penny in the open market.
Another theory (cosigned by Mr. 94 himself), is that by temporarily clearing Parsons’ remaining $964,750 from the cap sheet, the Rockets are that much closer to freeing up the space needed to acquire Carmelo Anthony. While I do believe Houston is one of the top 2-3 potential landing spots for Melo, New York’s hiring of Phil Jackson makes things tricky, as the old Knicks regime was surely higher on Jeremy Lin than the Zen Master will be should trade options ever be explored.
But the ways in which Houston could acquire Melo are numerous, and with a creative genius like Morey doing the maneuvering, contemplating the possibilities seems pointless. The other major move the Rockets could make can only happen one way, a Morey specialty: a big-time trade.
While others are seeing potential Parsons-sign-and-trade possibilities in exchange for another All-Star, getting him to commit to a frozen basketball-hell like Minnesota or cap-hell in New York seems like quite a hurdle. What I’ve yet to see anywhere is the off chance that Morey is planning on waiting-out Flip Saunders and the Timber Wolves on the inevitable Kevin Love trade. For now, the Wolves are dead set on keeping Love and will almost certainly go into the season with him as their starting power forward. But unless Minnesota starts out blazing like Portland did last season (pun intended) when they saved their relationship with LaMarcus Aldridge, the Wolves will eventually come to the conclusion that everyone else in the NBA did long ago: they have to trade Love.
Parsons would be available for trade by mid-December, right about the time you’d expect an 11-games below .500 Minnesota to come to that dreadful realization. And while Minny would more than likely prefer a top-draft pick to anything Houston can offer, unless teams get the nod from Love that he’d be interested in resigning with them, no team is going to give up that kind of hooch for a rental. That’s why I just don’t see anyone in the top-6 of this year’s draft getting a deal done; Love would not resign with a single one of them.
If this scenario plays out like the past few small-market defections, Love will provide a short list of teams he would resign with, and the Wolves will be forced to negotiate with those teams for the best deal. So, assuming Minnesota can’t get the type of pick protection they want from a team, could an offer of Parsons (at, say, $11 mill.), Terrence Jones and a picks-package be enough to make Saunders blink? If you recall, two years ago it was Minnesota who tried to outbid Portland for Parsons’ most comparable doppelganger, Nic Batum, when he was a restricted free agent. ‘Sota still needs a small forward and Parsons is certainly better than having to take back David Lee or Carlos Boozer in other popular trade scenarios, although Chicago does have the Nikola Mirotic chip that could win the day.
It would be a ballsy move by Morey, matching any Parsons deal this summer and ending his love affair with a flexible cap sheet, with the intention of trading him for the most (realistically) sought-after player in the league right now. But the Wolves would never have a shot at a guy like Parsons in free agency, and with the ink still drying on his contract, he would have no choice but to report and hope Ricky Rubio finally figures it out.
Then again, Daryl Morey might have something else up his sleeve. Maybe he just keeps Parsons outright and uses his remaining budget to strengthen the bench; let the James Harden/Dwight Howard experiment breathe a little before making anymore major moves. Or, Rajon Rondo, Dirk Nowitzki and Kyrie Irving among others could be had either this summer or in the next 12 months.
Signing Parsons without Melo or Love in tow would cramp the Rockets’ cap sheet and hinder future movement, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that Morey is always thinking two moves ahead. The man’s got a plan.