NBA Free Agency: Why Houston won't, and never was, going to let Parsons slip away

Bob Levey

Daryl Morey made one mistake not picking up Parsons' team option, but he's too smart to make another.

The NBA offseason is the Wild West. Anything goes, and for that reason, it fills hundreds of thousands of fans with hope for a better future for their team of choice as they prepare for the next season.

As a result, it's easy to lose perspective. Most of the NBA is seeing it right now with the Cavaliers, as they preemptively prepare T-shirts and apologies for the way things ended, acting like it's a done deal that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland. It's certainly possible -- but NBA fans such as ourselves, unbiased and removed from the situation, only see Cavs fans setting themselves up to get burned once again.

Unfortunately, some of that is going on with the Chandler Parsons news right now. I'm guilty, too. It's all too easy to start imagining him running the floor with Monta Ellis. It's natural to think about effectively he can space the weak side and punish teams for doubling Dirk. But before we start coming up with nicknames and drawing up plays, let's take a deep breathe and think about this.

At the beginning of the offseason, the Rockets had the chance to pick up Chandler Parsons' option for $964,000 next season, an incredibly cheap price stemming from being on a second round rookie contract. After all, Parsons averaged 17 points, six rebounds and four assists a game last year while shooting 47 percent and 37 percent on 3-pointers. He's a 25-year-old who barely knows his limits. Right now, he can be a decent second option to a superstar; a Jason Terry to the Dirk Nowitzki. But who's to say that he can't get even better?

Knowing all that, Houston declined another year of that production that would have cost them under one million dollars. For perspective, Ben Gordon is going to make more than $4 million next year, and he's literally going to do nothing. The only reason it makes sense is for Houston to get Parsons in a restricted free agency situation, rather than the unrestricted he would have faced if they kept him another season.

Restricted free agency has been talked about plenty, both on this site and around the web. But the most important thing you need to know about it when it relates to Chandler Parsons is this: he can't leave without Houston letting him.

You've probably seen the scenario that keeps getting batted around: Houston wants Chris Bosh, and can get him (1) if LeBron goes to Cleveland and (2) if they sign him before Chandler Parsons. Since Parsons agreed to the offer sheet, Houston now has 72 hours to match him. According to the scenario, the only thing that needs to happen is for LeBron to delay his decision past the 72-hour timeframe, so that Houston has no choice but to decline Parsons so that they can still grab Bosh.

But we're making an assumption here, and a rather big one: if Saturday comes and LeBron is still mum, would Houston let Parsons walk in pursuit of Bosh? I don't think so.

Even Daryl Morey has to be impressed at all the bells and whistles Cuban & Co. are pulling out to make this a difficult decision: the third-year player option; the trade kicker; potentially front-(or back-)loading the contract. But at the end of the day, Dallas can't change the fact that Parsons is a 25-year-old with potential to get better. They can't change that Parsons had more win shares than LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kyrie Irving last season.

Assuming Saturday comes and there's still no word about LeBron's decision? Houston probably winces a little, then they file the paperwork and match that max offer sheet Parsons signed -- bells and whistles included. Without knowing what LeBron will do (and in turn, whether Bosh is available), it would be time to rescind the offer to Bosh and move on with a team that won 54 games even as their second star, Dwight Howard, was adjusting to his new situation and teammates.

This is Daryl Morey the Mavericks are dealing with -- cap manipulator, front office genius. He knew what he was doing when he declined Parsons' option in May. He understood the real possibility of Parsons getting a max offer sheet. As someone who had used salary tricks to steal Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin away a couple of seasons ago, he even knew what bells and whistles might be weaponized against him.

That's not to say everything went smoothly. As Adrian Wojnarowski reported, Parsons and the Rockets negotiated and couldn't come to an agreement, leading to Parsons signing the Mavericks' offer sheet. It was a gamble sending Parsons to restricted free agency now, but it eliminated any chance that Parsons could just walk away as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Also, since many teams totally avoid restricted free agents because of the complications and the home team's upper hand, it seemed that Parsons could probably be re-signed something less than the max.

It wasn't a great gamble, and Cuban called his bluff. This isn't how Houston envisioned his master plan unfolding. But rarely do general managers get exactly what they want, and that's why contingency plans exist. Morey has proven time and time again that he's one of the smartest basketball minds in the world, and while he's certainly not infallible, not preparing for a situation where Parsons gets a maximum offer seems like a mistake he's too smart to make. Young talent is valued more than ever and NBA free agency inflation continues to rise.

I'm sure Morey now regrets not picking up Parsons for one more year of cheap service, but I also believe he's too smart to let one mistake turn into two. Letting a 25-year-old near All-Star with upside walk -- when you have the explicit option of keeping him -- is a mistake. One that would benefit Dallas greatly, but one that just doesn't seem very likely.

By declining his option, Houston already showed their hand: they were bringing back Parsons on a long-term deal this offseason. The preferred method was probably something more like three years, $36 million, with other teams avoiding him because he was restricted. But Bosh or no, LeBron making his decision before the deadline or no, I think Houston's plan is to match, and always has been to match.

I might be putting too much faith into Daryl Morey, and it's certainly possible the wizard outsmarted himself more than any of us realize. Scenarios are revolving and factors are being considered in Houston right now that I can't even dream of, and maybe, just maybe, it'll be enough for Houston to let Parsons walk. Cuban certainly made a nice play here no matter which way Houston opts.

But just understand that Houston holds the cards, and they've shown time and time again that they know how to use them. If you're getting too carried away with Parsons as a Mavericks before it becomes official early Sunday morning, do it at your own peril.

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