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.
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.