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Report: Rockets to decline team option on Chandler Parsons in pursuit of bigger star

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If they desire, the Rockets will keep Chandler Parsons next season. That was always the case.

It will just cost them a little more now – by their choice.

The Rockets hold a $964,750 team option on Parsons for next season. If they exercise it, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. If they decline it, he’ll become a restricted free agent this summer – i.e., getting a raise sooner but one Houston can match.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Houston Rockets plan to decline the fourth-year option on forward Chandler Parsons’ contract, freeing him to become a restricted free agent this summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Houston is determined to clear the necessary salary cap space this summer to chase a third maximum contract free agent to join Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.

Houston plans to pursue the major stars who could be available upon opting out of deals, including Miami’s LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, league sources said. Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki is expected to be a target too.

We already knew the Rockets were interested in Kevin Love, an attainable target. But why not also put LeBron, Bosh, Melo and Nowitzki on the radar? Who wouldn’t want one of those players?

However, if the Rockets were intent on maximizing cap room, they would have just picked up Parsons’ option to ensure he’d count against the cap at $964,750.

[MORE: PBT Podcast — Finals preview, Heat vs. Spurs]

By Houston declining it and then extending a qualifying offer, Parsons will count against the cap at $2,875,130* until he signs either a contract or offer sheet. Then, he’ll count against the cap at his 2014-15 salary, which will surely be much higher.

*He earned a higher qualifying offer by meeting the starter criteria. That puts his qualifying offer equal to the rookie-scale amount for the No. 21 pick in the 2010 draft (not 2011, as previously noted). Though Parsons was drafted in 2011, the 2010 draft is used because players drafted in the first round in 2010 are finishing their contracts this season.

So, it seems the Rockets are more interested in a sign-and-trade.

I’d think a player of Parsons’ quality making less than $1 million, even if on an expiring contract and due a big raise the following year, would have high trade value. But to add salary in a trade – LeBron, Bosh, Melo, Nowitzki or Love wouldn’t come cheap – the Rockets would have to send out a comparable amount of salary. In that sense, a higher-paid Parsons could be more helpful.

This decision might say something about the low trade value of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who will each count $8,374,646 against the cap next season while owed $14,898,938 in real money. Though that cap number could facilitate a sign-and-trade, teams might balk about actually paying so much in actual dollars.

Hence, Parsons – a better player than Asik and Lin – could become the preferred sign-and-trade option.

Of course, Parsons would have to go along with a sign-and-trade. He’s clearly fond of Houston, and he might not accommodate a deal that sends him elsewhere.

[MORE: The curious case of Chandler Parsons]

That said, he should welcome making around $10 million rather than less than $1 million next season. Wherever Parsons plays in 2014-15, Houston is doing him a huge favor.

Personally, I would have exercised Parsons’ option and enjoyed the advantages of a good starter making so little money for an extra year. Then, once the contracts of Asik and Lin expire next summer, I would have tried to leverage Parsons’ tiny free agent amount into huge cap space and then gone over the cap to re-sign Parsons.

But Morey should know the Rockets’ current options better than I do. This could be the first step to something very big.

And if that backfires, Houston will at least safely lock up Parsons for several more years, though at a higher cost.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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