There was a time when the summer silly season in the NBA, the time of year when free agency and player movement rule the day, was a non-starter here in the city of Houston.
Sure, we'd all get really excited and delude ourselves into thinking "THIS could be the summer that a championship structure begins to take shape," like we did four years ago when an iPad-toting Daryl Morey made the trek to court Chris Bosh. We all know how that ended, with Bosh winning rings in Miami and with the Rockets stuck in 42 win purgatory for two more years.
It all bottomed out in July 2012 when Morey was asking us to tweet Omer Asik about how much we all loved him (even though about 65 percent of Rocket fans had no idea who he was), which felt like having one of your buddies go ask the ugly chick at the bar at 2:00 a.m. if she was "going anywhere after this."
Then, James Harden happened. Then, last summer, Dwight Howard happened.
Point being, summer always mattered for the Rockets, but now the Rockets matter. So here we are, and the summer of 2014 is about to tip off on Tuesday, and the Rockets made one big domino official over the weekend:
Forward Chandler Parsons was officially informed he would be a restricted free agent, with the Rockets turning down the option on the fourth year of his rookie deal.
By turning down the option on the final year of Parsons' deal, it sends the fourth year forward into restricted free agency, which gives the Rockets a greater degree of control over Parsons' future with the team, as restricted free agency gives the incumbent team three days to match any offer sheet the player may receive from another team.
For the benefit of Rocket fans and teenage girls throughout the Houston area, here are a few of the things you need to know for Chandler Parsons' first journey into free agency:
5. This is a star studded free agent class. Does that make Parsons more or less likely to change teams? Before answering that question, let's assess where Parsons is amongst the stars in this free agency class. CBS Sports' Matt Moore currently ranks Parsons ninth in his latest free agency Top 40. In plain English, Parsons is firmly near the top of the second tier of forwards after LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dirk Nowitzki. Of course, among those four guys, the only one seen as a likely defector from his incumbent team is Anthony, so in theory, Parsons could be viewed by many teams as the second best forward "on the market." Which brings us to....
4. Who could be the biggest threats in making Chandler Parsons a former Houston Rocket? Well, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets stiffest competition for Parsons' services could be the Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls, and Timberwolves. Of those teams, the Lakers and Mavericks have the cap space to make it happen, the Bulls can easily create it (Carlos Boozer, you have an email with subject "AMNESTY"), and the Timberwolves have a big asset the Rockets may want in a deal, which brings us to.....
3. What's the most likely scenario that could make Parsons a former Rocket? Let's start with a quick assessment of Parsons the player. I think most NBA observers would agree that Parsons is more of a high level, souped up complementary player, as opposed to being the focal point for a team. The biggest assets he brings to the table are consistency (you know what you're getting), versatility (can play the 3 and give you spot minutes at the 4 in smaller lineups), and leadership (see: Howard, Dwight, Rockets' courtship of). So in terms of a sensible contract, we know Parsons shouldn't be a near-max player. I'm thinking a four year deal something starting at around $9 million in Year 1 seems about right. However, this is the NBA, and we caveat everything with ALL IT TAKES IS ONE DUMB TEAM TO DO SOMETHING DUMB.
That said, if Parsons were to leave, and I had to wager on how it would come about, the scenario picking up steam is the sign-and-trade with Minnesota for Kevin Love. Now, this would have to entail Minnesota's seeing Parsons as bigger building block than he probably is (like offering $12-13 million per year, or thereabouts) and Parsons wanting to play in Minnesota for that amount of money. Both aspects seem a tad shaky to me, not so much the Wolves doing something stupid, but Parsons wanting to go there.
2. What are the biggest things to keep in mind about restricted free agency? Well, as mentioned before, the spirit of restricted free agency is to give the incumbent team the best chance ("final say," if you will) in keeping their guy. If Parsons were to sign an offer sheet with a team, the Rockets would have three days to match. The biggest thing to remember that often gets left out is this:
As with any contract offer, a team must have enough room -- either cap room or room provided by an exception -- for the offer sheet. They must also maintain sufficient room while the offer sheet is outstanding -- e.g., they can't sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, and then use up all their cap room by signing another free agent during the three-day waiting period.
In other words, once a team -- let's say the Lakers, Bulls, or Mavericks -- signed Parsons to an offer sheet, the money they've offered Parsons counts against their cap until the Rockets make a decision on matching or declining. (If the Rockets decline, then it converts the offer sheet to a contract and Parsons would continue to count against the cap as any normal free agent pickup would.) This is important because the Lakers, Bulls, and Mavericks are not only seen as suitors for Parsons, but also all three are on Carmelo Anthony's short list, and it's doubtful any of those teams would tie up their cap space with a Parsons offer sheet sitting out there while Anthony was still on the market in decision making mode.
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(This is where we put out the blanket caveat that no team that matters is doing anything in free agency until LeBron decides affirmatively what he is going to do.)
1. Wow, it sounds like Chandler Parsons future is really tied heavily to what Carmelo Anthony decides, huh? VERY much so. If Anthony decides to come to Houston, then the Rockets' Bird rights (the rule by which the Rockets can exceed the salary cap to sign their own free agents) come into play in allowing them to match offer sheets with Parsons' suitors. However, Anthony coming to Houston also means that Carmelo suitors seeking a wing with shooting range become a little more desperate and may be willing to spend a less-than-Melo-but-more-than-the-Rockets-want-to-pay amount for Parsons.
Parsons Watch begins on Tuesday, and it should be a tense juggling act for Morey. Such is life in the world of NBA relevance.