Rockets honored Dwight agreement with agent in letting Parsons out of his contract

Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard

The Houston Rockets made one — and only one — mistake this offseason, and it was a big one.

There’s no shame in coming up short on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. The Rockets should be praised for consistently aiming high. I also don’t think it was an error to decline to match the almost-max offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas. He’s simply not worth that money.

Their mistake was letting Chandler out of his contract in the first place.

That’s not hindsight talking. Remember, the Rockets could have simply picked up his 2014-15 option and had him on the roster at a mere $964,750. Knowing now what the Rockets knew then — that they had a significantly different value placed on Chandler than Chandler placed on himself — combined with the team’s need to add a significant player before committing long-term to him, it becomes pretty clear that letting Parsons out of his contract a year early was not a good idea.

There were benefits to going the restricted free agency route, but they were nullified if the Rockets didn’t make big salary moves before that. While the decision at the time seemed strange, we, as fans, were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that one (or both) of these things was true: 1) The Rockets had a comfort level for adding someone of significance this offseason before re-signing Chandler, and 2) Chandler was fully on board with the plan (possibly even having a verbal agreement in place), willing to wait since the Rockets were doing him a solid by letting him out early.

Neither was true and it blew up in their face.

The problem is this — the Rockets were well aware of everything I just outlined in making their choice. They just had no choice. By letting Parsons out of his contract, the Rockets were simply honoring an agreement they made with his agent in 2013 when they signed Dwight Howard.

As I’ve been told, Howard’s agent Dan Fegan did not want Dwight in Houston, preferring instead to steer him to another team. Reportedly, that team was Dallas as the agent has a relationship and comfort level with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Dwight preferred Houston. To seal the deal for the premier free agent, Fegan provided the Rockets a list of needs/demands to bring him here and one of them was to let Chandler Parsons, who also was represented by Fegan, out of his contract this summer rather than wait until 2015.

(It should be noted that though I have no idea what other items would be on that list, there were two “interesting” things that happened around that time — the Rockets hired Howard’s former trainer with the Orlando Magic and they later added Dwight’s brother to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, though it was largely believed that he wasn’t a good enough prospect to make that jump. See JR Smith-Chris Smith for how nepotism package deals can work.)

Parsons has since publicly denied that the decision by the Rockets had anything to do with Howard, but I’ve been told by multiple sources that it’s true.

All kinds of smoke

Let’s put the “sources” aside for a minute and just look at the circumstantial evidence.

  • It was well-known that the Rockets had a heavy interest in Dwight Howard and would be pursuing him as a free agent in the summer of 2013. The team tried to trade for him on multiple occasions over the previous 18 months. Just weeks before Howard became a free agent, Parsons fired his agent Mark Bartelstein to align himself with Fegan. That’s a pretty big coincidence. It’s a very good bet (if not outright safe to say) that Fegan leveraged that unique situation to land Parsons as a client, knowing he was likely the only agent in a position to get the Rockets to give up Chandler’s bargain option and get him a big haul one year earlier.

  • By not picking up the team option on Chandler, the Rockets lost about $2 million in cap room in a summer in which pursuing max free agents was their highest priority. Teams routinely unload valuable first round picks for less cap room than that, yet the Rockets willingly sacrificed a valuable chunk to make Chandler a restricted free agent. The Rockets had to be working with Chandler and/or supremely confident in their chances to land a top free agent to do that, or… something else. Looking back, this was extremely illogical.

  • In the summer of 2013, Chandler Parsons suddenly became the greatest star free agent recruiter of all-time. According to Forbes magazine citing a source, Chandler was “relentless” in pursuing Dwight as he “called and texted [Dwight] every day” despite barely knowing him at the beginning of the pursuit. Does it make more sense that Chandler was doing this for the team, city and championship pursuit or because his own big payday was on the line? When you consider that Chandler knew that an $8-$15 million bonus and increased long-term security sooner hung in the balance on whether Dwight said yes to Houston, the Herculean effort may not have been quite as altruistic as we all thought.

  • News that the Rockets would decline the team option and make Chandler a restricted free agent leaked nearly a month before the deadline the Rockets had to make that decision. This may not seem excessive, but when you consider that the NBA Draft — the hotbed time of player movement throughout the league — was still to occur and could impact the decision, it seemed silly that the front office would be able to say it with certainty at that point. I’ve since talked to people who were told by Chandler himself during the 2013-14 season that the plan was to make him a restricted free agent. No mention of why, but he apparently knew even then that the team option was not going to be picked up.

  • In an interview with local sports radio 610am after deciding not to match Parsons’ offer sheet with the Mavericks, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was asked if he had to do it all over again if he would let Chandler out of his deal. He closed his answer with something fairly cryptic, saying, “A lot goes into those decisions, way more than people might realize.”

  • Just plain common sense. If the Rockets and Parsons weren’t aligned on a figure and the team didn’t view him as the third-best player on a championship team, it made no sense to sign him long-term until they had the core of their team set. Many say, “But it almost worked and they nearly had both Bosh and Parsons!” But play it all the way out. Had the Rockets not done this and signed Bosh with cap room, they’d still have Bosh and Parsons. Houston would have had their superstar trio and Parsons, as an unrestricted free agent in 2015, would have had to make a tough choice to walk away from that championship core. But more importantly, the Rockets could have traded him. Both the situations with Kevin Love (a lame duck contract that still fetched a big haul on the trade market) and Klay Thompson (young player who could have reeled in Love in return) are strong indicators that the 25-year old small forward’s trade value, on a one-year, $1 million deal, would have been good.

    Having said all this, no party involved thought Chandler was going to be leaving Houston. The Rockets wanted him back. Chandler wanted to be here and the Rockets consistently told him they would match any offer. That might explain some of why he was “offended” after the process. He expected to remain in Houston.

    Will the Rockets be better off?

    Overall, the Rockets lost a valuable trade asset at a minimum, but they could be better off with Trevor Ariza. As much as I liked Parsons, he was playing a position where you would traditionally like to have a good (if not lockdown) defender. That becomes even more of a need for this team given how the other position where you would generally see a wing stopper (shooting guard) is a major defensive concern for the Rockets. I think this will depend on who the Rockets are able to eventually acquire as their “third” guy. As a #3, I’d give the edge to Parsons. As a #4, I prefer Ariza.

    While time will tell if they are better off on the court, the reasoning behind the offseason’s biggest “blunder” is at least now explained. The Rockets weren’t a team that made a late decision to take an ill-advised and costly risk. They were a team desperate to contend and land the big fish a year ago, and they did what it took to make that happen — even if they knew they might have to fall on their sword a year later.

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