Morey: Rockets lack third-best player on a championship team

Daryl Morey Houston Rockets

Finding a third star player is near the top of Daryl Morey’s agenda for the Rockets.

The Rockets are comfortable with James Harden and Dwight Howard leading the way, but appear not to see themselves as a true championship contender until a third star emerges.

In candid comments found near the bottom of a new Sports Illustrated feature story on Houston’s Chandler Parsons, general manager Daryl Morey makes his priorities clear and details three routes for the team to succeed in his quest.

“We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team,” said Morey, speaking to SI‘s Ian Thomsen. “And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don’t have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that — or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.”

Any major addition “this year” would involve the period from now until the February 20 trade deadline, with a package including disgruntled center Omer Asik seeming most likely. Though Thomsen reports that the Rockets insist Asik will no longer be traded, he adds that the “change in strategy” from December’s heavily-advertised Asik sale could eventually yield a larger market for Asik.

Morey’s reference to the 2014 offseason is also of note, because at the moment, the Rockets are not projected to have cap space. That could change, however, if the Rockets dealt the likes of Asik and Jeremy Lin for an expiring contract (Pau Gasol?), potentially freeing offseason room.

It may also be that Morey believes unhappy stars in the 2015 free agency class, such as Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, could be traded this summer when their teams believe they have the most leverage in trade talks — just as Orlando did with Howard in the summer of 2012.

The other method to finding a third wheel, of course, is development from within. And while Morey says Lin and Terrence Jones could become that “No. 3 star”, Parsons is firmly on that list as well.

“He’s definitely got the ability to be the third-best player on a championship team,” said Morey, speaking of Parsons. “He’s played like that many times. The tough transition is whether you bring that level every night.”

Thomsen compares the possible transition of Parsons into a starring role in Houston to ones being undertaken by Serge Ibaka in Oklahoma City and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. Thus far in 2013-14, Parsons is averaging a career high in points (17.1), field-goal percentage (51.3%), rebounds (5.4) and assists (3.6) — but lingering knee and back injuries continue to be a concern.

Nonetheless, Parsons has defied the odds throughout his career, which began with a slide into the second round of the 2011 draft. And if the Rockets are lucky enough to find that elusive third star from within, their starting small forward from Florida would seem to be the most likely candidate.

“He breaks the mold in a bunch of ways,” said Morey.

“[It's] because he wasn’t a top scorer in college. Generally, all of the players who make the league were big-time scorers who played at much higher level in college, and then have to dial it back in the pros to play a smaller role. Where Chandler played the same role for a very good Florida team. He’s playing a similar role, but he’s playing it now in the pros.”

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