The Houston Rockets could be on the hook for nearly $30 million for a pair of bench players next season, yet that's not their biggest offseason concern.
The balloon payments owed to reserves Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik will sting, but Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would tell you that Chandler Parsons' $964,750 team option is what keeps him tossing and turning at night.
There isn't another NBA value quite like the third-year forward.
As a second-round selection (38th overall in 2011), he wasn't guaranteed the financial security that a first-rounder receives. That was until the forward-thinking Morey—always several steps ahead of the curve—presented him with a four-year, $3.7 million contract offer.
After a solidly unspectacular career at the University of Florida (10.2 points and six rebounds per game) and 37 servings of humble pie on draft night, Parsons grabbed what seemed like a great deal at the time.
"Although I was confident in myself after my college career, I was still drafted in the second round," he said, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "Rather than a one-year deal, I picked a four-year deal."
Some two-plus seasons later, the deal looks even better than it did before—on Houston's end.
Something has got to give, and it just might give this summer.
Picking up a team option for less than $1 million on a guy giving All-Star production seems like a no-brainer decision, but it couldn't be more of a tough call.
If the Rockets exercise the option, they'll get the benefit of one more season of cheap production but also the added risk of Parsons hitting unrestricted free agency in 2015. Should Houston decline, it would lose out on that bargain rate but maintain some security, as Parsons would then become a restricted free agent, giving the Rockets the right to match any contract offer he receives.
Only Morey knows what's best for his team: clearance contributions or more control of the situation.
What if Morey has something else in mind, though? What if Parsons isn't a part of his future plans? What kind of player would Houston be missing out on?
That depends on who you ask.
ESPN Insider's David Thorpe (subscription required) dubbed Parsons "a wing slasher with great size and the athleticism to produce an excellent finishing rate...also can effectively deliver the ball to shooters or scorers when defenses cut him off."
Parsons does a little of everything offensively.
The Rockets feature him most prominently as a spot-up shooter (29.7 percent of his offensive plays), a set that's seen him convert 38.5 percent of his long-range looks, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). His versatile skill set sometimes seems wasted when he's asked to be a floor-spacer, but when he heats up from outside, you want him staying out there even more.
He's willing and able to climb outside that box, though. He has a top-10 finishing rate both coming off screens (1.19 points per possession, eighth overall) and receiving dribble hand-offs (1.17, eighth). He ranks 33rd as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (0.88) and has a 64.4 percent success rate on shots within three feet of the basket.
Of course, not everything about him is golden.
"He's a mediocre rebounder for his position and a straight-up bad rebounder for his height," SB Nation's Tom Ziller wrote.
Parsons is improving at the defensive end, but he still doesn't seem as if he's getting out of his physical gifts (6'9", 227 pounds, great athleticism).
He has held opposing 3s to a mediocre 14.6 player efficiency rating this season, according to 82games.com. The Rockets allow more than five additional points per possession when he's on the floor (103.8) than when he sits (98.2).
He is a good player who has some flaws. He has the potential to be really good, although he will be turning 26 before next season starts.
At his current rate, he's an absolute steal. But how much is too much to keep him around?
Morey may be able to keep his price tag slightly lower on the restricted market if teams are apprehensive about freezing free-agent money for a deal they know will be matched. That's obviously not a foolproof plan, though. The Indiana Pacers had no intentions of giving Roy Hibbert a maximum contract until the Portland Trail Blazers forced their hands.
I don't think anyone views Parsons as a max-contract talent, but teams could inflate their offers to deter the Rockets from matching. Whether Houston picks up his team option or not, there's some risk involved.
The summer of 2015 could be the setting of a major heist for the Rockets. Simply shredding the contracts of Lin and Asik alone will free up more than $16 million. Given the names who could be available that summer (Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, to name a few), it's a class likely to grab the attention of Houston's star-gazing executive.
Parsons can't chew up too much of that money. If his defense doesn't develop, I'd be hesitant to stray north of $9 million per season. Even that seems pricey, but the free-agent market doesn't yield many bargains.
Just like Houston, plenty of teams have prepared their books for summertime spending this offseason and next. Parsons will have no shortage of suitors.
He could be a somewhat cost-effective target for a small-market team looking to placate its incumbent superstar (Love, Kyrie Irving). A win-now team could overpay to bring him in if it felt it was close enough to the finish line to justify the cost.
The Rockets don't seem like they're at that point. Not yet, at least.
Morey hasn't ruled out Parsons as his championship-caliber third wheel, but he hasn't penciled the swingman into that spot, either.
"We don't have our third-best player on a championship team yet," Morey said earlier this season, according to Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated. "We need one of younger guys to develop into that -- or potentially make an addition...in free agency this offseason."
Still, his biggest value to this team comes in the form of his minuscule contract. That value will change as soon as his paycheck does.
He's worth keeping around at a reasonable rate. But if someone wants to break the bank for the league's bargain producer, Houston has to let someone else make that mistake.
Parsons is a helper, but he's a far cry from irreplaceable.
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