DALLAS — While Dwight Howard and James Harden have suggested the Houston Rockets will be just fine without Chandler Parsons because, well, they’re the best center and two-guard in the game, thank you, at least one member in red might just miss the small forward now playing in Dallas: Kevin McHale.
Parsons had been the sole survivor off McHale’s first team in Houston in 2011-12. The coach grew fond of the rapidly ascending second-round pick who, under McHale, emerged as a fringe All-Star candidate and a final cut this summer for Team USA.
McHale brought his Rockets to Dallas on Tuesday night to open the preseason. The 6-foot-9 Parsons led the Mavs with 14 points, all coming in the first half when he played a game-high 16 minutes, as if Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to immediately show the Rockets exactly what they’ll miss.
“I talked to Rick about him. I told Rick he’ll do well for him,” McHale said. “I thought he was a good glue guy for the team. I think he’s in a good spot right now. Rick will do a good job with him. As with all young guys, he talked to me about it multiple times, he wanted to get a contract, he wanted to get all this stuff. Everybody, when you come into the league, you want a lot of stuff, and then when you get it, you realize it’s basketball and basketball is the most important thing. But I’m glad he’s got it. I’m sure he’ll settle down now and not be talking about money all the time. He’s killing me with talking about money all the time. He’s got enough of it now.”
McHale, of course, was grinning, if not aching inside. And Parsons, who has acknowledged that he never believed he’d be leaving Houston, is all smiles, too. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey passed on matching the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Mavs owner Mark Cuban hand-delivered to Parsons at an Orlando, Fla., bar in early July.
Chandler scored with relative ease on his old mates and in a variety of ways, sinking two of his three 3-point attempts, splashing a mid-range jumper, slashing to the basket and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Mavs are anticipating a big year for their new acquisition playing off Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer, and Monta Ellis, a super penetrator. The 3-ball, which Parsons shot at a 37 percent clip last season, should be readily available to him on the weak side.
“I thought Chandler got better every year,” McHale said. “He’s a good playmaker, good off the dribble, shoots that line-drive jumper just good enough it goes in every once in a while. He’ll make 3s even though you wouldn’t probably look at his shot and think he’s a 3-point [shooter], but he makes a high percentage of them. He’s a big guy, you can switch stuff with him defensively, so I mean he gave us a lot. He was a very good player for us and he’ll be a very good player for Dallas.”
McHale couldn’t stop.
“I just think he had a good all-around game, his ability to drive-and-kick, likes taking big shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to miss. We’re just going to have to fill in around him and find players that can come in and do some of the stuff he did.”
Houston signed veteran two-way forward and former Rocket Trevor Ariza to replace the 25-year-old Parsons in the starting lineup.
“Trevor’s got really good instincts defensively, he’s long, shoots the ball real well … so he’ll help,” McHale said. “Of course, he’ll have to help us a lot. He’ll have to have a big year for us like Dwight and James has to also.”
Houston believes Donatas Motiejunas is ready to make an impact. The skilled, 7-foot power forward had a game-high 18 points to lead the Rockets to the 111-108 victory in a strange exhibition that included 81 fouls and 109 free throws. The Rockets are hopeful Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou can contribute and that former Mavs guard Jason Terry has some 3-ball magic left in his game.
It’s certainly a reshuffled roster from the team that won 54 games in the first year of the Harden-Howard pairing. After flirting with Carmelo Anthony, it seemed Houston’s big-game hunting GM was on the cusp of signing Chris Bosh and bringing back Parsons to form a true heavyweight. But Bosh took Miami’s money and Houston was left empty-handed.
So now it’s up to McHale to figure out how to mold a handful of new role players, most unaccomplished in the league. And it’s up to Howard and Harden, the self-anointed best center and two-guard in the NBA, to lead and keep the Rockets in the Western Conference title conversation.
“Just play basketball,” Howard said after getting six points, six rebounds and six fouls in 15 minutes of game time. “I let the people up top do their job. I can’t focus on nothing but what I can do to help this team win. We got some pretty good pieces on this team and I think we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”