Heading into the summer of 2014, the Houston Rockets had one of the best young cores in the league. They had a former MVP candidate that was still playing at a high level in Dwight Howard, a guard who would finish second in the MVP race the next season in James Harden and one of the smartest and most aggressive front offices in the league.
What they also had was one of the best deals in the league with a 25-year old Chandler Parsons signed to a deal worth less than $1 million.
Parsons was coming off of an incredibly productive year with the Rockets shooting 37% from three, a true shooting percentage of 56.5% and the highest assist percentage of his career (17.3%). The Rockets seemed to have a young player locked into an incredibly team-friendly contract before they did the unthinkable.
According to rumors, part of the agreement of the Dwight Howard signing was that the Rockets would let Parsons out of his contract a year early in order for him to sign a larger contract as Parsons and Howard share the same agent. Although the rumors have never been confirmed, the Rockets held up their end of the supposed agreement by allowing Parsons to venture to restricted free agency.
The unthinkable happened as Parsons signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks for three years and $46 million (not surprising) that the Rockets decided not to match (surprising). The Rockets seemed to have made a mistake leaving a 6-foot-9 inch hole in their lineup.
The Rockets front office struck again signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million contract that declines in value every season.
Parsons was incredibly valuable to the Rockets’ team that made the playoffs for the first time in four years, but Ariza brought things to the team that helped them advance to the Western Conference Finals.
We’ve all seen this by now. In the six-minute clip put together by a YouTube user, James Harden gets endlessly back cut, driven past and simply embarrassed on the defensive end. Harden deserves a large part of the blame for his defense during the 2013-2o14 season, but with Parsons as the other wing defender, opposing guards were often drooling when they saw Houston on the schedule (and not just for the “extracurricular activities”).
What Ariza brings to the Rockets is an ability to always give Harden the easier of the two wing assignments. Along with fewer lapses on the defensive end, Ariza was the reason for an obvious improvement in Harden’s defensive game.
Ariza has the ability to guard smaller guards, but has also has improved his off-ball defense. In an early season game against the Clippers, Ariza helps stop Chris Paul from getting to the rim, forces Jamal Crawford to put the ball on the ground on his closeout and blocks his second attempt at getting the shot up. This is just one of many instances Ariza has shown his true value to the Rockets.
Offensively, Parsons brought much more to the Rockets than Ariza has, and although James Harden had his best season with Parsons as a member of the Mavericks, the Rockets’ offense suffered.
In 2013-2014, the Rockets were fourth in offensive efficiency scoring 111 points per 100 possessions. That number fell to 107 points per 100 possessions this season when Parsons was replaced with Ariza, but with Howard missing exactly half of this season, the drop off would not have been near as severe had they been able to replace Joey Dorsey’s minutes with an efficient player such as Howard.
Houston used Parsons as a secondary ball-handler when James Harden went to the bench. Parsons is a very skilled passer, and although he isn’t the quickest player in the league, he uses his length to get to the lane.
Ariza doesn’t make these plays as regularly as Parsons does, but because the Rockets were able to sign Ariza at almost half the cost, they were able to bring in someone who can.
(Sorry to the Mavs’ fans that had to live through that again.)
I don’t let the Rockets off the hook for letting Chandler Parsons out of his contract early; if it is what brought them Dwight Howard then I don’t mind it, but otherwise it was an indefensible decision. But Daryl Morey is an intelligent person and intelligent people don’t compound their mistakes. Letting Parsons out of his bargain contract was his first mistake, but a bigger mistake would have been signing Parsons to a contract that you don’t value him worth (which the Rockets seem to not have).
Considering the production Ariza brought, the contract they were able to sign him to and the benefits they were able to reap because of that value, Morey should be lauded for the tough decision he had to make.