Sometimes things don't go quite the way we planned them. Houston Rockets fans learned this all too well in the past four days.
At lunchtime on Friday, it was all right there. A few more simple (albeit expensive) steps left to execute, and the Rockets would have the best starting five in the NBA, and still have a few more tricks up their collective sleeve to fill in around a core of Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons.
(Yes, those players listed absolutely necessarily in that order. More on this in a minute.)
And then Bosh happened. And then a two-day scramble mode happened. And then it was good-bye to Chandler Parsons. And suddenly, where on Friday everyone was planning a coronation, now it looked like there would be another few months of construction.
What does it all mean? Where exactly are the Rockets right now?
Well, there is most certainly a lot more work to be done. What looked like the basketball version of the fully completed Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV now bears a much more striking resemblance to the partially built Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
If this means that Les Alexander is Emperor Palpatine and that Morey is Darth Vader (and that Chandler Parsons is Luke Skywalker in skinny jeans), then so be it.
(Nerds are nodding like, "Whoa...yeah... Mind. Blown." I know, right?)
Thankfully, the city has a general manager for its NBA team who is open enough publicly to give a more than reasonable window into the thought process for decisions made and to-do's going forward, yet private enough with the actual nuts and bolts of building the team to not be the sucker at the table.
The 2012 offseason gave the Rockets a late surprise (Harden trade), 2013's offseason brought the big fish (Howard signing), 2014's was a colossal disappointment, especially when you consider that Morey's book on how to build a team has a prologue and ten chapters on the need for a third All-Star player.
To accomplish that acquisition, Morey made correct moves, logical moves.
They just got sideswiped by Chris Bosh's desire for lucrative comfort exceeding his threshold for title contending stress. Maybe the Rockets and Morey should have seen it coming, but you take people (the Bosh camp) at what appears to be their word, and sometimes you get burned.
As outlined in detail yesterday here, Morey went on SportsRadio 610 with my colleagues Nick Wright and John Lopez on Monday morning, and was very forthright about his thought process behind the moves the team made once Bosh sent them into "Plan B" mode.
I would encourage listening to (or at least skimming the transcript) the entire interview, it's really good. As we sift through the roster left behind by the trades of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, along with the decision to allow Parsons to leave, here are a few things we can glean from Daryl Morey's words on Monday:
5. Morey is way more concerned with what the roster looks like on April 14, 2015 than we are all concerned with how it looks on July 14, 2014. Every move the Rockets make is with an eye toward increasing their probability of winning an NBA championship. I think Morey made that as clear in his interview with Nick and Lopez as any conversation I've heard Morey have. He said it multiple times, often reinforcing it. To that end, to any Rockets fan that was glum on Sunday night because the roster is worse today than it was on July 1, I think Morey would say "And?" There are no games being played in July, August, or September, and no games that truly matter until April (Morey wouldn't say that last part about the regular season, but it's true). You don't win titles by feeling victorious in July, you generally win titles, Morey would tell you, by having three star players and a top ten defense in the league.
4. Patrick Beverley is a bigger part of this team going forward than people may think. Multiple times in the interview when asked about reasons for optimism, Morey mentioned Beverley right off the bat. Also, as mentioned a moment ago, Morey spent a minute discussing the need for an elite defensive team in order to win a title. (NBA statistical side bar: The only two teams in the last thirty years to fall outside the top ten defensively and wins title are the 1995 Rockets and the 2001 Lakers.) He specifically mentioned having dynamic defensive players at three of the five starting positions, Beverley (2nd team All-NBA Defense) is one of them, and in a conference with a ton of elite point guards. I bring this up because when it's time to go trade shopping, the short list (and the list of likely available players is really short) will have two point guards, Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic, that will make the Rockets slightly worse and much worse (respectively) defensively. Upgrading the power forward spot is a much more likely strategy. 3. Morey doesn't appear to think the Pelicans will be a playoff team this season. Multiple times in the interview, Morey referred to the draft choice the Rockets got from the Pelicans as essentially a lottery pick, calling it a pick "similar to the one that netted [them] James Harden" (which was the Toronto late lottery pick in the 2013 draft the Rockets received in the Kyle Lowry trade). I agree with Morey, getting a first round pick with the protections this Pelicans pick has (Rockets receive the pick if it falls from 4th through 19th) for Asik was a coup, considering a) Asik's $15 million balloon payment and b) that the Rockets were not exactly dealing from a position of strength, i.e. everyone knew they were trying to move Asik. It speaks to the indestructible value of a seven footer who can walk and chew gum at the same time. The Pelicans' 2014-2015 season, and its effect on their draft slot, could be a very underrated subplot for the Rockets as the season unfolds.
2. Morey thinks the Rockets have a better chance of finding a third All-Star than Chandler Parsons's developing into a third All-Star. I'm actually pretty envious of the clarity that analytical thinkers like Morey have. They work and work to assess the probabilities of scenarios, eventually boiling it down to some flavor of a percentage play as it pertains to achieving an overall goal:
GOAL: Win an NBA title. DECISION: Match Dallas's offer sheet to Chandler Parsons, YES or NO.
After analyzing their roster, the available solutions, Chandler's actual contract and its impact, and probably a dozen other things I'm leaving out, eventually Morey and his team arrive at a highly educated hunch grounded in a philosophy and exhaustive data. That's about as clear as you can be in your management style. I would imagine that's pretty liberating, operating with a code like that. Not to say that there's no emotion involved, but I would imagine very little second guessing goes on when you view the world through the analytical prism Morey does. Not every decision is correct, but every decision has sound reasons.
From a sanity standpoint, I would imagine that's a good place to be.
Which brings us to Morey's assessment of Parsons, in which he made it clear that he loves Parsons's game, just a) not at $15 million per year and b) not with a contract that is virtually untradable as structured. It's clearly Morey's feeling that he needs a third All-Star caliber player to compete for a title. He said it multiple times in the interview. So if that's the title "buy-in," and you don't think Parsons is that guy, then at $15 million per year he's a double whammy, as not only is he not the third All-Star, but his contract prevents you (or at least constrains you) from being able to acquire the third All-Star.
You can agree or disagree with Morey's assessment of Parsons, but you can't argue with the clarity of the rationale. (If this, then that...) You can agree or disagree with the plan, but at least you know what the plan is.
Hell, at least you know there is a plan. Far too few teams operate with this level of clarity.
Now, one person who disagrees with Morey's assessment of Chandler Parsons is, not surprisingly, Chandler Parsons. He set Twitter on fire Monday night with a few quotes that he gave to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports about how he viewed his whirlwind free agency courtship with the Mavericks and the Rockets' assessment of his skill set:
"Honestly, I was offended by the whole process," Parsons told Yahoo Sports on Monday in a phone interview. "They publicly said that they were going out looking for a third star when I thought they had one right in front of them. I guess that's just how they viewed me as a player. I don't think I've scratched the surface of where I can be as a player and I think I'm ready for that role.
"You can't knock them for always trying to get better. [Houston general manager] Daryl Morey is very aggressive, is a genius, a great GM and I have nothing but respect for those guys. And they are looking to make their team better. That's what they were doing. I just thought I could be that guy that could do that."
For some reason, these quotes sent some Rocket fans and Houston media members into a multi-tweet tizzy that would have you thinking that Parsons called all their moms "whores." To me, this is really simple -- Chandler Parsons is a professional athlete who has supreme confidence in his abilities, and if you want to to call it delusion, that's fine. That's your right to do so.
To me it's pretty simple:
There was a commercial for Barron's, the investment publication, back in the day. It featured some old dude who explained the stock market quite simply: "People buy a stock thinking it's going to go up. Problem is they're buying it from someone equally convinced that it's going to go down."
That's really this Parsons' situation, right?
At its core, Daryl Morey's confidence that he needs a third star player better than Chandler Parsons on a near-max level deal is no different from Parsons' confidence that he can be that player on a near-max level deal.
One will be right, one will be wrong.
Daryl Morey likes Chandler Parsons, he likes him a lot. He just likes the Rockets' chances of winning a championship by letting someone else pay Parsons $15 million per year. And Daryl Morey is paid to win NBA championships, not appease Chandler Parsons's fans.
Now, for Morey, it's onto the next set of scenarios and decisions, with the singular goal of each decision being to choose the option that gives the Rockets a better chance of winning an NBA championship.
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Clarity is liberating. There's no looking back. Which reminds me....
1. Morey would absolutely, positively trade Andre Johnson for a draft choice if it made the Texans better. On this, I have no doubt. Lock.