On Wednesday afternoon, Rockets restricted free agent forward Chandler Parsons agreed verbally on an offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks worth a reported $46M over the next three seasons.
Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com is reporting that the offer sheet will be signed on Thursday, at which point the Rockets will have 72 hours (until some point during the day on Sunday) to match. If GM Daryl Morey hopes to add another star player to the formula, he has until Sunday to dump Jeremy Lin’s salary via trade and formally ink a marquee free agent. If he is able to do so, the Rockets could then match Dallas’s offer on Parsons to retain their own player without worrying about the salary cap ramifications. (The luxury tax, on the other hand, would almost certainly come into play in that scenario, but there have been no indications the Rockets are unwilling to pay the tax in 2014-15.)
This is the Harden-Howard-Parsons AND a max free agent dream scenario. It is essentially this weekend, or not at all.
A lot of dominoes need to fall around the league before Sunday for that to happen. Chris Bosh is waiting on LeBron James. There are reports LeBron is waiting on the Heat and Cavaliers to pursue roster upgrades before making his decision. And Carmelo Anthony, the Rockets original free agent target, is leaning towards staying put in New York, but still keeping his eye on the other big names.
Houston’s focus now appears to be Bosh. If LeBron re-signs in Miami, Bosh will likely follow, and the Rockets will almost certainly match to keep Parsons very quickly at that point. If LeBron signs in Cleveland, the Rockets will need to hit the EJECT button on Jeremy Lin’s contract immediately, likely with a first-round pick or attached to Lin in a one-way dump with Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Orlando, or a similar rebuilding roster. They could then sign Bosh, match Parsons, and be among the favorites to win the 2015 championship.
So what’s really going on here? Some thoughts and educated speculation:
1. Parsons is in the loop on Houston’s timetable. I cannot believe otherwise. That doesn’t mean he will be staying, but he knows things are reaching a conclusion and that Houston will know where its cap space is going by Sunday.
2. Dallas genuinely wants Parsons, which is understandable. He would be a great fit for their offense as an upgrade on steady, declining veteran Shawn Marion, spacing the floor to allow Dirk the room he needs at the elbows and the top of the key. I imagine Parsons is happy to go there if the timing backfires on Houston, or if Daryl Morey simply decides to move on.
3. LeBron holds the power. This is obvious. If he were to sign with Cleveland tomorrow, Bosh and Parsons will be Rockets this season. If he signs in Miami tomorrow, just Parsons will. And if he waits until the middle of next week, the Rockets could end up with neither player, but would likely have to bite the bullet and spend their cap room on Parsons.
The rest of this is my personal preference, and I am in the large minority of Rockets fans on this: I would let both guys walk and retain flexibility for future summers. In 2016, neither Bosh nor Parsons will be worth $15M+ per season. Those contracts will be chips to upgrade to a bigger star next to Howard and Harden. And the Rockets will need to part with future assets to get rid of Lin that will make those deals difficult.
The Rockets are currently the guy at the dealership who doesn’t love his options. If your car just died in a fiery wreck and you have major commitments in the short-term, you talk yourself into settling for what’s available. Or, alternatively, if you’re the impulsive sort who wants to make a deal just because you know you have the cash to drive home in a new car today, so you take the best car in your price range and call it a win.
This is not how the Rockets operate. They are neither desperate nor impulsive. They want a third star, but it needs to be the right player for the third max slot on their roster, or they will peak short of a championship and have to start all over in a few years.
Miami’s formula is the correct one: get the three biggest stars you can fit under the cap, and lure the right role players to town using cap exceptions, late first round picks, and careful roster construction. Houston is better equipped to do this than Miami, because they use the draft and D-League as well as any contender in the league to churn out productive rotation players.
Bosh is not the guy for this team. Parsons, paid like a Big Three member, is also not the guy.
Take the baby step backwards, much as it hurts in the short-term, and let Terrence Jones play 35 minutes a night, keeping Lin and the Lin-sweetening draft picks for now. Win 50-55 games, hope to catch some breaks in the playoffs like the 2011 Mavs, and make a move next summer, or perhaps in-season this year if the right star hits the market.
Do not go all in with Chris Bosh, or, as a consolation prize, an overpaid Chandler Parsons. This is a case where winning the press conference is not the best path to winning it all.