Here’s a guest post defending Daryl Morey and his recent attempts to conquer the NBA Free Agent market. Here’s a little about our guest poster: Kevin O’Connor has written for various sites including SB Nation and WEEI, and he has done independent NBA Draft work for Sports Aptitude. He can be followed on Twitter at @KevinOConnorNBA or contacted by email at KevinOConnorNBA@gmail.com. -Ed.
When some NBA franchises are busy throwing bundles of cash at average role players like Jodie Meeks and Josh McRoberts, the one general manager willing to take huge, calculated risks is the person most writers and fans are criticizing.
The consensus appears to be that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey screwed up because he lost Chandler Parsons to Dallas, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin were traded, and of course, Chris Bosh decided to return to Miami. Of course, some errors were made, but to call this a “loss” for the Rockets is erroneous.
Signing Bosh and matching the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons was clearly the best-case scenario, but it didn’t happen. You can’t always win (like Houston did the past two offseasons, acquiring Dwight Howard and James Harden), and the Rockets will still come out of this fiasco with a loaded roster with the flexibility to make big moves before February’s trade deadline.
Lin and Asik are gone; so what?
Even if Morey didn’t have plans to build a super team with Chris Bosh, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin were getting traded, period. This is where Morey made terrific decisions, though many people mistaken the transactions as moves simply meant to set up a Bosh signing.
Jeremy Lin is an average backup point guard who occasionally struggled to run the offense, which is one reason why Patrick Beverley became their full-time starter in the playoffs. Plus, Houston’s offense scored 5.9 more points per 100 possessions with Beverley on the floor over Lin. Not to mention that Beverley is nearly $7.5 million cheaper and better complements James Harden because of his absolutely tenacious defense.
Of course, in dealing Lin, Houston lost a top 14 protected first round draft pick to the Lakers, but the 2015 NBA Draft is expected to be quite top heavy, with only sprinkles of talent falling into the 20s, which is where Houston’s pick will likely be slotted.
Besides, Houston acquired a first rounder from New Orleans in return for Omer Asik, with protections guaranteeing them a superior pick between the 4th and 19th spots.
Essentially, the Asik and Lin trades can be looked at as one large transaction: Houston dealt them both and their own 2015 first rounder for a better first rounder, an $8.5 million trade exception, and cap flexibility.
Houston bench, we have a problem?
Some critics have claimed that Houston stripped themselves of all of their depth, but that clearly isn’t the case. Lin was an expendable player since Patrick Beverley, Nick Johnson, Troy Daniels, and Isaiah Canaan can all provide production at the point guard position.
Even Italian star scorer Alessandro Gentile is expected to join the Rockets this year, and while he isn’t a point guard, he could help replace some of the scoring spark that Lin provided off the bench.
As for Asik, he’s certainly one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA, but he was redundant playing behind Dwight Howard, especially with an $8.5 million price tag. Opening up the space to comfortably use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions will allow them to find a big man who fits better playing behind D-12.
And that’s exactly what they did, adding Joey Dorsey to the roster. Besides throwing down ferocious dunks, Dorsey has actually developed into a high-end defender playing overseas. Even though he’s not on Asik’s level, he’ll be about $7.5 million cheaper, and likely brings more skills as a scorer in the pick-and-roll as well.
To say that depth is a problem for Houston completely underrates their current roster, and it ignores the possibility of more moves to come later this summer or during the season.
Parsons is better than Ariza, but twice as good? Nah.
Daryl Morey calls the deal Chandler Parsons received one of the most untradeable contracts he’s ever seen in the NBA; while that isn’t necessarily true, he does imply that Parsons isn’t worth it compared to Ariza.
Parsons is three years younger than Ariza and has improved every single year as a pro, but the numbers suggest that they make a close to equal impact on the floor. For a contending team like Houston, the production each player gives is all that matters, and it wasn’t worth matching the Parsons deal especially after signing Ariza.
Last season Parsons had a 15.90 PER to Ariza’s 15.87 PER, but Ariza was a far more efficient scorer, edging him out in effective field goal (56.2% to 53.8%), true shooting (59.0% to 56.5%), and three-point percentage (40.7% to 37.0%). For such a highly analytical team such as Houston, and one that prefers to maximize their efficiency from three-point land, this differential may have played a large role in their decision.
One reason why Parsons’ PER was a tick higher is because of his superior ball handling, passing, and distributing skills. No doubt, Houston loses a versatile wing that can play off the dribble, but with the ball-dominant James Harden at the two-guard, perhaps having a complementary piece like Ariza hovering around the perimeter could be a better fit.
Interestingly, Ariza was a 42.9% three-point shooter on spot up attempts last season, 5.1% better than Parsons, according to mySynergySports. Even though the differential is minimal, that only supports the assertion that Parsons isn’t worth the extra dough.
Ariza is also a superior defender and was completely snubbed in the All-Defensive Team voting, receiving only three total votes. Houston was 12th in the NBA last season with a 103.1 defensive rating, but perimeter defense was occasionally an issue — ahem, Harden — and Ariza (along with Beverley starting at point guard) will help solve that problem.
Parsons is a better all-around player because of his scoring versatility, age, and upside, but it’s arguable that Ariza is a better fit for Houston’s current situation, especially considering he’ll be $6.2 million cheaper next season (and $8.3 million less by year 3 of their contracts).
But Parsons never should’ve had his option declined
The counterargument to the “Ariza vs. Parsons” debate is that Daryl Morey never should’ve taken the risk and let Parsons enter restricted free agency, and that he underestimated the market for him.
It’s unlikely that the latter is true, but the former is certainly debatable. Morey clearly went into the offseason with a plan of having four stars with close-to-max contracts (Harden, Howard, Parsons, and “Star X”), but the Parsons angle was the place he had a choice.
Morey could’ve picked up Parsons’ option, keeping him on a discount deal for this season, but that would’ve meant there would be an extremely high chance he’d walk in 2015, assuming the plan on signing “Star X” in 2014 worked out (which it didn’t).
It was undoubtedly a calculated risk, but had Houston signed LeBron, Melo, or Bosh, it would’ve looked like a stroke of genius since he would’ve had four legitimate star players locked up on long-term contracts, without the risk of losing Parsons next summer.
Of course, Morey struck out on the stars in free agency, so he was given two choices:
A. Match Parsons’ contract, lose all cap flexibility, locked into a core of Harden, Howard, and Parsons.
B. Let Parsons go, find a cheaper replacement, and retain flexibility going forward.
Morey chose the less popular road and let Parsons go work for Shark Tank television superstar and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, but it doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice for all the reasons stated above about his cheaper replacement, Trevor Ariza.
Over the length of the contract, Chandler Parsons could very well become the better player, but Houston might be in a better position to build a championship team because of their difficult decision to let him go.
So, then what’s next for Houston?
Here’s how Houston’s entire offseason should be viewed, because it’s really not as complicated as it seems:
Protected 1st Round Draft Pick
Protected 1st Round Draft Pick
Protected 2nd Round Draft Pick
Parsons and Ariza, Gee and Casspi, Hopson and the second round draft pick, and both firsts basically all cancel each other out.
What does it boil down to? Houston traded Lin and Asik for cap flexibility, just like they originally planned on doing before the summer even begin — regardless of what happened with the acquisition of a star player.
Morey is still in a position where he can get creative to attempt to acquire a star player (like Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love); with plenty of assets at his disposal (draft picks, Clint Capela, Gentile, Beverley, etc.), there’s no saying what could be done if an opportunity arises.
At the least, Houston can freely sign role players to short-term contracts, bolstering their depth as they look towards a long playoff run, instead of worrying about entering the luxury tax (or even getting hard capped), had they decided to keep Chandler Parsons.
The Rockets didn’t hit the jackpot and the offseason certainly hasn’t been a sexy one, but we’re only in mid-July and there is plenty of time for moves to be made.
Do yourself a favor and poke fun at the organizations that are afraid to take calculated risks or are spending carelessly like a spoiled teenager with daddy’s credit card, because they’re the teams that will be missing the playoffs for consecutive years.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets will be in a position to contend for the NBA Finals once again, thanks to Daryl Morey and his fearless, shrewd, and tactical philosophy.