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Rockets honored Dwight agreement with agent in letting Parsons out of his contract

The decision to let Chandler Parsons out of his bargain contract a year early was a mistake, but it was a decision made long ago by the Rockets.

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Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard

The Houston Rockets made one — and only one — mistake this offseason, and it was a big one.

There’s no shame in coming up short on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. The Rockets should be praised for consistently aiming high. I also don’t think it was an error to decline to match the almost-max offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas. He’s simply not worth that money.

Their mistake was letting Chandler out of his contract in the first place.

That’s not hindsight talking. Remember, the Rockets could have simply picked up his 2014-15 option and had him on the roster at a mere $964,750. Knowing now what the Rockets knew then — that they had a significantly different value placed on Chandler than Chandler placed on himself — combined with the team’s need to add a significant player before committing long-term to him, it becomes pretty clear that letting Parsons out of his contract a year early was not a good idea.

There were benefits to going the restricted free agency route, but they were nullified if the Rockets didn’t make big salary moves before that. While the decision at the time seemed strange, we, as fans, were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that one (or both) of these things was true: 1) The Rockets had a comfort level for adding someone of significance this offseason before re-signing Chandler, and 2) Chandler was fully on board with the plan (possibly even having a verbal agreement in place), willing to wait since the Rockets were doing him a solid by letting him out early.

Neither was true and it blew up in their face.

The problem is this — the Rockets were well aware of everything I just outlined in making their choice. They just had no choice. By letting Parsons out of his contract, the Rockets were simply honoring an agreement they made with his agent in 2013 when they signed Dwight Howard.

As I’ve been told, Howard’s agent Dan Fegan did not want Dwight in Houston, preferring instead to steer him to another team. Reportedly, that team was Dallas as the agent has a relationship and comfort level with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Dwight preferred Houston. To seal the deal for the premier free agent, Fegan provided the Rockets a list of needs/demands to bring him here and one of them was to let Chandler Parsons, who also was represented by Fegan, out of his contract this summer rather than wait until 2015.

(It should be noted that though I have no idea what other items would be on that list, there were two “interesting” things that happened around that time — the Rockets hired Howard’s former trainer with the Orlando Magic and they later added Dwight’s brother to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, though it was largely believed that he wasn’t a good enough prospect to make that jump. See JR Smith-Chris Smith for how nepotism package deals can work.)

Parsons has since publicly denied that the decision by the Rockets had anything to do with Howard, but I’ve been told by multiple sources that it’s true.

All kinds of smoke

Let’s put the “sources” aside for a minute and just look at the circumstantial evidence.

  • It was well-known that the Rockets had a heavy interest in Dwight Howard and would be pursuing him as a free agent in the summer of 2013. The team tried to trade for him on multiple occasions over the previous 18 months. Just weeks before Howard became a free agent, Parsons fired his agent Mark Bartelstein to align himself with Fegan. That’s a pretty big coincidence. It’s a very good bet (if not outright safe to say) that Fegan leveraged that unique situation to land Parsons as a client, knowing he was likely the only agent in a position to get the Rockets to give up Chandler’s bargain option and get him a big haul one year earlier.

  • By not picking up the team option on Chandler, the Rockets lost about $2 million in cap room in a summer in which pursuing max free agents was their highest priority. Teams routinely unload valuable first round picks for less cap room than that, yet the Rockets willingly sacrificed a valuable chunk to make Chandler a restricted free agent. The Rockets had to be working with Chandler and/or supremely confident in their chances to land a top free agent to do that, or… something else. Looking back, this was extremely illogical.

  • In the summer of 2013, Chandler Parsons suddenly became the greatest star free agent recruiter of all-time. According to Forbes magazine citing a source, Chandler was “relentless” in pursuing Dwight as he “called and texted [Dwight] every day” despite barely knowing him at the beginning of the pursuit. Does it make more sense that Chandler was doing this for the team, city and championship pursuit or because his own big payday was on the line? When you consider that Chandler knew that an $8-$15 million bonus and increased long-term security sooner hung in the balance on whether Dwight said yes to Houston, the Herculean effort may not have been quite as altruistic as we all thought.

  • News that the Rockets would decline the team option and make Chandler a restricted free agent leaked nearly a month before the deadline the Rockets had to make that decision. This may not seem excessive, but when you consider that the NBA Draft — the hotbed time of player movement throughout the league — was still to occur and could impact the decision, it seemed silly that the front office would be able to say it with certainty at that point. I’ve since talked to people who were told by Chandler himself during the 2013-14 season that the plan was to make him a restricted free agent. No mention of why, but he apparently knew even then that the team option was not going to be picked up.

  • In an interview with local sports radio 610am after deciding not to match Parsons’ offer sheet with the Mavericks, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was asked if he had to do it all over again if he would let Chandler out of his deal. He closed his answer with something fairly cryptic, saying, “A lot goes into those decisions, way more than people might realize.”

  • Just plain common sense. If the Rockets and Parsons weren’t aligned on a figure and the team didn’t view him as the third-best player on a championship team, it made no sense to sign him long-term until they had the core of their team set. Many say, “But it almost worked and they nearly had both Bosh and Parsons!” But play it all the way out. Had the Rockets not done this and signed Bosh with cap room, they’d still have Bosh and Parsons. Houston would have had their superstar trio and Parsons, as an unrestricted free agent in 2015, would have had to make a tough choice to walk away from that championship core. But more importantly, the Rockets could have traded him. Both the situations with Kevin Love (a lame duck contract that still fetched a big haul on the trade market) and Klay Thompson (young player who could have reeled in Love in return) are strong indicators that the 25-year old small forward’s trade value, on a one-year, $1 million deal, would have been good.

    Having said all this, no party involved thought Chandler was going to be leaving Houston. The Rockets wanted him back. Chandler wanted to be here and the Rockets consistently told him they would match any offer. That might explain some of why he was “offended” after the process. He expected to remain in Houston.

    Will the Rockets be better off?

    Overall, the Rockets lost a valuable trade asset at a minimum, but they could be better off with Trevor Ariza. As much as I liked Parsons, he was playing a position where you would traditionally like to have a good (if not lockdown) defender. That becomes even more of a need for this team given how the other position where you would generally see a wing stopper (shooting guard) is a major defensive concern for the Rockets. I think this will depend on who the Rockets are able to eventually acquire as their “third” guy. As a #3, I’d give the edge to Parsons. As a #4, I prefer Ariza.

    While time will tell if they are better off on the court, the reasoning behind the offseason’s biggest “blunder” is at least now explained. The Rockets weren’t a team that made a late decision to take an ill-advised and costly risk. They were a team desperate to contend and land the big fish a year ago, and they did what it took to make that happen — even if they knew they might have to fall on their sword a year later.

  • Armed with a bizarre fascination for Mario Elie and a deep love of the Houston Rockets, Dave Hardisty started ClutchFans in 1996 under the pen name “Clutch”.

    Houston Rockets

    Mike D’Antoni: The Rockets isolation offense wasn’t pretty, but it was effective

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    Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets

    Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made an appearance on the Thinking Basketball podcast to discuss his career, and he went into his stretch with the Houston Rockets (2016-2020).

    One of the big topics discussed was the isolation sets that the Rockets ran often and why they did it.

    “If that one-on-one was not efficient, we wouldn’t do it,” said D’Antoni. “But it was doing, if I’m not mistaken, 1.2-something (points per possession) ridiculous. 1.16, for a long time, was the standard of the best offense an NBA team had. We kind of blew that out of the water a little bit (at) 1.20, but our isolation game was like 1.25, 1.24, so it was like — why wouldn’t we isolate?”

    The former Rockets coach admitted it was not the most pleasing offense to the eye.

    “People don’t like it,” said D’Antoni. “Aesthetically it’s not good. I don’t love it. I would rather pass the ball around. And if I had a team that didn’t have James Harden, guess what? We’d be passing the ball around… It wasn’t pretty. People can complain. But when you have the most efficient offense in NBA history, or close to it, why wouldn’t you do it? Just because you want to look pretty?”

    D’Antoni talked about how good the Rockets second units were in the 2017-18 season because of Chris Paul, citing how often the Rockets boosted their lead or turned a deficit into an advantage when they turned to the bench.

    “Chris was just a maestro at running our offense, and doing it a little bit (Steve) Nash-like,” said D’Antoni. “Harden had to do it like Harden did it, but both of them were good. Both of them were perfect.”

    D’Antoni said part of the reason for the iso sets was he wanted to maximize James Harden and make him “the best player he can possibly be.”

    “James is one of the smartest players — and there are a bunch of them — that I ever coached,” said D’Antoni. “I thought probably two or three years there, he had a complete mastery of the game. He went over 50 I don’t know how many times in a row. We were banged up one night and I said, ‘James, you might have to get 50 tonight for us to even have a chance to win.’ He gets 60 and we win. Stuff like that. He was able to do stuff (that)… just a mastery of the game.”

    On how close the Rockets were to winning a title, said D’Antoni, “I thought we had it, the third year until Chris went down. Maybe not. Who knows, because Golden State had hearts of champions. Those guys are hard to beat. But I thought we had a good chance at it, that’s for sure.”

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    Houston Rockets

    Why Alperen Sengun will come off the bench

    With Bruno Fernando expected to start, here’s the plan for the Rockets second-year center

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    Alperen Sengun Houston Rockets

    When the Rockets traded Christian Wood, it was crystal clear that Alperen Şengün was the new starting center for the Houston Rockets.

    As we’re on the cusp of the Rockets 2022-23 season opener, there’s only one problem — he’s not.

    Bruno Fernando is expected to get the starting nod at the five for the Rockets, leaving many to wonder why the second-year center out of Turkey is coming off the bench.

    There are a couple reasons why.

    First, the Rockets are trying to optimize their prospects, putting them each in the best position to succeed. In the case of Sengun, they want to leverage his passing skillset by making him an offensive hub. That’s difficult to do when you have ball-dominant guards in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., who thrive out of isolation and are trying to make progress leading pick-and-rolls.

    Fernando is a much more limited player, but he fits better right now with the starters because he screens/rolls hard and plays above the rim as an alleyoop threat — it’s been fairly apparent in the preseason how the guards use him. While not a great defender, Fernando also is more of a rim protector than Sengun.

    Secondly, Sengun needs to adapt more to the NBA game. The Rockets very much believe in his prospects — he’s only 20 years old — and they still consider him the best five on the roster. But the NBA is a much different game than EuroBasket, which is where he spent more of his offseason focus. The days of just dumping the ball into a post player seem to be dwindling in the NBA. He’s got to get quicker, stronger, tougher — but most important of all, he’s got to shoot the ball better from range.

    In a culture where coming off the “bench” is considered a demerit (it shouldn’t be), you have to explain the reasons why — but keep in mind, his minutes will still be significant. I expect he will likely get in the 24-26 range this year, an increase over the 20.7 he got last season. He’s still going to have plenty of opportunity to develop.

    My two cents: I give the Rockets props for doing this so early. It’s been apparent to me that the Rockets have multiple players who would be considered secondary playmakers, and to maximize their skills, they need the ball in their hands (imagine if the Rockets drafted Paolo Banchero … grateful every day that Jabari fell to #3!). This hopefully allows for that. Playing Sengun off the bench gives you an opportunity to play a variety of ways and also covers up a current deficiency at backup point guard.

    I don’t want to watch Sengun follow the guards around — I want to watch peak Sengun running offensive sets.

    Overall, I like it — let’s get the season going.

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    Houston Rockets

    Rockets extend Kevin Porter Jr. to incredibly team-friendly deal

    What’s being reported as a four-year, $82M extension is actually a one-year, $15.8M extension with full club control

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    Kevin Porter Jr. signs Rockets extension

    Today was the deadline for the Rockets to extend Kevin Porter Jr. The Rockets have had an offer extended to KPJ for some time and the word behind the scenes was it was likely this day would come and go without a deal.

    That changed in a hurry Monday morning.

    The Rockets and KPJ agreed on a reported four-year, $82 million extension — at least, that was the initial report.

    In truth, the deal is not that at all and is more the spin of an agent. Only the first year of the deal, at just $15.9 million, is guaranteed. The Rockets have until June 30, 2024 to decide if they want to pick up the two following years (2024-25 and 2025-26).

    It’s clear KPJ accepted the Rockets longstanding offer because it is one extremely team-friendly deal.

    “We value the player and the person that Scoot is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone.  “He’s expressed how happy he is to be with this organization and has shown his commitment to putting in the work both on and off the court. We are excited for the opportunity to continue to build something special with him.”

    In essence, the structure of this contract fully acknowledges the risks associated with betting on KPJ. It’s not the money you’re giving him — it’s the years. If you give him a long-term deal with fully guaranteed money and things go south, that is an unmovable contract — a cardinal sin to give out when your rebuild is going so phenomenally well after the drafting of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr.

    This deal reflects that risk and comes close to eliminating it. The Rockets control all the upside. If KPJ pans out beautifully, they can extend him — it’s 100% their decision. If he doesn’t pan out or the roster/core shifts in an unexpected way — such as being in position to draft Scoot Henderson — KPJ could be a large expiring contract next season.

    The Rockets basically signed KPJ to the Sam Hinkie Special (contracts you saw with Chandler Parsons, Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin), but with much bigger dollar figures.

    For KPJ’s part, there is a small win — he’s gets almost $16 million next season and is signed for this season ($3.2M) and next. He doesn’t have to worry about the finances as much while still staying highly motivated to play well. He didn’t fully bet on himself and take this to restricted free agency, but he did still take a deal that incentivizes him to earn it. But this deal isn’t in the same stratosphere as the ones you saw signed by Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole.

    The bottom line: There are risks to signing KPJ that were mitigated by this unique contract structure. If you are a fan of the Rockets remaining flexible as they strive to build a contender, you should be thrilled with this. Big win for Stone and the Houston front office.

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    Houston Rockets

    KJ Martin reportedly drawing interest on trade market

    Rockets have had “ongoing talks” with Phoenix Suns about the third-year forward

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    KJ Martin Houston Rockets

    According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Phoenix Suns have had “ongoing talks” about acquiring Rockets forward KJ Martin while Portland and Miami are “two other known teams with interest in Martin.”

    There has been talk of trading KJ since before the summer when his father, former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin, reportedly sought a trade for his son. With the Rockets holding multiple picks in the draft, it appeared the writing was on the wall for reduced minutes for KJ.

    Martin has looked like a trusted member of Stephen Silas’ rotation so far in preseason. KJ has played in all three games, averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.0 minutes, hitting 5-11 from deep.

    At the same time, Jabari Smith Jr. is the future, Jae’Sean Tate seems to be the coaching staff darling and Tari Eason has exploded onto the scene. Minutes for KJ could be available but they will be hard to come by.

    If the Rockets are going to trade KJ, what should be the asking price? My feeling is a “good” second-round pick (one that could be expected to be in the 31-42 range) would be the goal. If the Rockets were offered a lottery-protected first-round pick, I think that would be a steal right now for Houston.

    What could make more sense is if the Rockets combined KJ Martin with a player like Eric Gordon, especially given the goals of suitors like the Suns, Blazers and Heat.

     

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    Houston Rockets

    Jabari Smith steals show in Rockets preseason opener

    The Rockets rookie is legit as we take a look at what else stood out in Houston’s preseason rout of the Spurs

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    Jabari Smith Jr Houston Rockets

    Finally, Rocketball is back — the Rockets destroyed the San Antonio Spurs 134-96 in the preseason opener Sunday night.

    Granted, the Spurs look flat out terrible (the top contender for Wembanyama?) and may finish dead last (and it showed), but there were a number of things that played out in this game that should get Houston fans excited.

    But before I get into that, I want to give a huge shout out to everyone who supported RocketsWatch Sunday night. We are watching and discussing Rockets games in realtime this season and the debut was overwhelming. There were over 700+ fans watching the game with Roosh Williams and I in what might be the largest online watch party ever for a Rockets game. The live reactions from the fans were priceless!

    Let’s talk about what stood out in this game:

    Jabari is the real deal

    Going into Sunday night’s preseason opener for the Rockets, the biggest question on the minds of fans was simple — how will #3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. look in his first NBA action?

    The answer is good. Really good.

    Jabari threw down a dunk out of the gate and then locked in on high-energy defense on the other end and right away you knew — the Christian Wood Era was over. Jabari’s impact was immediate on both ends of the floor. Smith finished with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, including a blistering 5-8 from deep, to go with eight rebounds in 24 minutes.

    Jabari described himself as “a lot more loose” than he was at Summer League, when he struggled to knock down his shots.

    “It was easy,” said Jabari. “My teammates made it easy for me, finding me when I was open. The rest just came from knocking down shots, running the floor, trusting the offense and trusting my teammates.”

    What most impressed me was how quick of a trigger Jabari had on the catch-and-shoot. He would receive a pass out of the post or a cross-court pass in the corner and would instantly let it fly, shooting easily over his defender’s reach. This trait stood out and was very Klay Thompson-esque. In the second half, Jabari hit a pull-up triple in transition (his fourth) that was very enticing, then absolutely slayed those of us in the RocketsWatch room when he took two long strides back from the free throw line to drain another triple.

    At that point, it was official — the rookie was clowning the Spurs. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the Rockets drafted Jabari. This man is going to fit like a glove and will be a ridiculous two-way weapon for the Rockets long term.

    https://twitter.com/brhoops/status/1576753965730889729?s=20&t=X5YfCfDU5HwynBnvqoicSQ

    Defense. They’re actually playing it. It’s true.

    I don’t need to repeat that the Rockets were dead last in defense last year, but… the Rockets were dead last in defense last year. Although, maybe I need to turn that frown upside down.

    https://twitter.com/FraudeauxNBA/status/1576358215406989312?s=20&t=X5YfCfDU5HwynBnvqoicSQ

    Sunday, however, was a different animal and you could tell immediately. The Rockets were hustling, moving quickly on rotations and closeouts.

    “It’s the defense, obviously, that we’ve been concentrating on,” said Stephen Silas. “Our help was good tonight. Our multiple efforts were really good… I’m super encouraged by our intensity on the defensive end.”

    Jabari was a big part of that. He made some clear mistakes, sure — I’m not going to say he was perfect — but he seemed to set the tone. Still, it’s not just Jabari — it’s clear to me the mindset of this team is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen the past two seasons. Maybe it’s the Jabari Effect or maybe Lionel Hollins is making his presence felt, but this does not look like the 2021-22 Rockets on this side of the ball.

    Tari Eason is pretty much plug-and-play

    I had my doubts that Tari Eason would get a ton of run in this game, but Silas played him early (note: Jae’Sean Tate sat this game out). Without having any clear plays run for him, Tari fought and scrapped for 21 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive!) in just 21 minutes. He hit 9-13 from the floor.

    “My mentality never changes,” said Eason. “I’m always going to be in the right spot, get after it defensively and be one of the hardest playing dudes on the court. I think that translates at any level and I’m just going to continue to do that.”

    He plays like his hair is on fire and has tremendous potential as a two-way demon. Throw him out there when things get stagnant and he’s going to make things happen.

    I’ve felt that the Rockets will likely bring Tari along slowly until they figure out what the long-term solution is for guys like KJ Martin, but Operation Patience isn’t going to work if he keeps putting up lines like this. You can’t keep him to the bench or send him to the G-League.

    Is Bruno Fernando the backup center?

    It sure seems that way. After news broke that the Rockets had signed Fernando to a four-year, nearly $11 million deal, Bruno was the first big off the bench, subbing in for Alperen Sengun.

    I’ll be honest — this really surprised me. I expected that Usman Garuba would have the clear inside track to the spot. Fernando also seemed like a good bet to be on a two-way contract, but now with this new deal, Fernando is going to be on the 15-man roster and barring a trade, someone has to be cut (Boban? Favors?) that isn’t expected to be.

    But Fernando, who sources say has been terrific in camp, showed why he got that contract, finishing 3-3 from the field and was a +18 in just 11 minutes. He was very effective on rolls, capping a pair of alleyoop passes from Kevin Porter Jr. I would be lying if I said I saw this coming, but it’s a welcome development.

    Rotation Notes

    It’s only one preseason game, but we still can draw a lot from how Silas sees the rotation.

    Bruno looking like a good bet for the backup center role was not the only surprise. KJ Martin and Daishen Nix, along with Bruno, were the first subs of the night. That indicates what we expected, that Nix is in the lead for the backup PG spot over TyTy Washington, who I would guess will run the show with the RGV Vipers early on. I like TyTy as the better bet for this spot long term, but right now the job appears to be Nix’s to lose.

    But KJ is a little surprising, given he reportedly wanted out this past offseason with the Rockets slated to bring in a couple bigger prospects (Jabari and Tari) at his position.

    Garrison Mathews played only five minutes. The prediction many have made that Silas would play him 15+ minutes this year is not looking so hot.

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