The two players most responsible for getting the Houston Rockets into a top-four seed in the West last season were James Harden and Dwight Howard. No one would dispute that. So when Harden says, as he did in the Philippines this week, that ...
"Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets," said Harden. "The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We've lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we'll be fine next season."
... he's simply speaking obvious truths. Chandler Parsons, the most aggrieved $46 million player ever, would like everyone to believe he's on equal footing with Harden and Howard, but that's wishful thinking. Parsons was a nice offensive complement to the style of Harden and he fit well in the system on one side of the ball. He was a role player, albeit one with a pretty large role. He was in no way the straw that stirred Houston's drink.
Seriously, why is Parsons so hurt by this?
Parsons on Harden: "It's a pretty ridiculous statement, if he meant that. I'm excited to go to DAL. I'm ready for next step, a bigger role."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 24, 2014
No one is going to take away your $14.7 million salary next season if Harden keeps talking. At least one team believes deeply in your ability to be more than a role player, because it reached out to make you the team's second-highest paid player ($146,000 behind Tyson Chandler). Your current team is treating you like the star you believe yourself to be. Why bother trying to battle Harden and Howard for the right to write The Official Oral History Of A Team That Lost In The First Round?
On the Rockets, Parsons really was a glorified role player. He was basically a mid-rung scorer/shooter and secondary playmaker, equivalent to the Houston version of Kevin Martin, but with less scoring/driving ability and more passing. Neither played defense well. Parsons' size is often lauded, but he doesn't actually do anything with it other than shoot over defenders. He's a poor rebounder at small forward despite being 6'9, and he's nearly as bad a defender as Harden. One assumes Rick Carlisle will work hard to fix that; there's little doubt that playing alongside a turnstile superstar in Harden set Parsons back a bit. (That said, Dallas' defense was poor last season, and Parsons' new running mate Monta Ellis isn't exactly the second coming of Dennis Johnson out there.)
Parsons is an elite shooter? No, not really. Some 56 players have played at least 2,000 minutes over the past two seasons while averaging at least four three-point attempts per game. Among them, Parsons ranks No. 25 in three-point percentage. That places him behind a litany of stars and also O.J. Mayo, C.J. Miles, Jodie Meeks and Parsons' own cheaper Rockets replacement, Trevor Ariza.
Parsons is a great scorer? He ranked No. 43 in points per game last season, which is great for a third banana. More importantly for a supplemental scorer, among the 58 players who averaged at least 15 points per game, he finished No. 22 in True Shooting percentage, behind guys like Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas and Meeks. With Harden and one of the league's better scoring big men, the Rockets didn't need points at all costs from their third banana. They needed efficient points. Parsons was basically as efficient as Nick Young last year. Nick Young.
NBA Must Reads
What makes Parsons a totally intriguing option is his passing -- he averaged four assists per game, which is excellent for a small forward -- and the potential for defensive molding due to his size. The right use of his playmaking ability and massive defensive improvement could make Parsons a legit star in the NBA. But those are coulds, future opportunities. He's not there right now. Right now he's closer to being a big Jodie Meeks, who stunned the world by getting so much as $19 million over three years. Parsons will be making more than double that. And he's grousing about not getting proper credit from his old teammates?
There are free agents who have had a right to feel disrespected this offseason, like Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe and Lance Stephenson. All three are more productive than Parsons, and two of them (I.T. and Lance) are sure to be making much less than him next season. (Bledsoe's situation remains unresolved, but the Suns' reported offer is for less per year than what Parsons will make.) At this point, Parsons might want to put Harden and Howard on mute and set about changing reality by making himself into a star.
For his part, Harden ought to count his blessings that Houston went out and grabbed Ariza, who can cover The Beard's incredible defensive shortcomings much better than Parsons did.