Any mention of the Texas Triangle, in NBA circles, has always had a very specific meaning.
Until this past summer.
No longer does the term exclusively reference the most dreaded three-stop road trip that the schedule can serve up, thanks to the Lone Star State love triad that dribbled its way into the basketball lexicon in July.
Cuban. Parsons. Morey.
Yet the season's first face-to-face encounter for Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey, after their tug-of-war over Chandler Parsons and the verbal sparring that inevitably followed, will have to wait. Morey is away this week on team business, meaning he won't be with the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night when they open their 2014-15 exhibition season against Cuban's Dallas Mavericks and their new small forward.
Cuban, mind you, insists that those expecting fisticuffs, or anything close, would have been disappointed anyway.
Says Cuban: "Is it competitive? Yes. Do I hate Daryl? No. I have a lot of respect for Daryl. Daryl's not one to hate at all. That's not his mode. He's very, very logical.
"Daryl Morey is the Spock of the NBA. I didn't originate that; someone else told me that. He's the Spock of the NBA because he's talking about logic all the time."
Fans of trash talk needn't worry, though. If recent history is any guide, as re-traced in depth below, things won't stay conciliatory between the Mavs and Rockets for long.
THE PARSONS PERSPECTIVE
- kayhomie, (@TheMavsQueen) July 10, 2014
You've seen the photos and video clips by now. You've surely heard the story of Cuban landing in Orlando, Florida, on one of his private planes on the night of July 9, heading straight to a club called The Attic and then huddling with Parsons to secure the 25-year-old's signature on a three-year, $46.1 million offer sheet in front of hundreds of gawking club-goers.
It was the unforgettable high point of Parsons' lucrative, life-changing summer, yet it must be said that restricted free agency, for the most part, isn't nearly that glamorous. Not even for a player, such as Parsons, who can legitimately claim to have a modeling career on the side.
The first week-plus of July found Parsons and agent Dan Fegan wondering when the phone would ring with a team on the other end of the line that believed it could really get Parsons away from the Rockets. But the phone wouldn't ring with that call. Potential bidders either appeared spooked by Houston's well-chronicled vows to match any offer Parsons got, or they were operating like the Mavericks and, frankly, the Rockets themselves -- which is to say they made it clear they planned to take their time and see if they had any real hope of landing Carmelo Anthony or (gasp) LeBron James before seriously courting anyone else.
- Dan Morgan (@DmoSwag) July 10, 2014
"So it was a waiting game in the beginning," Parsons said, "which I was OK with. But it was frustrating, too."
That the call eventually came from Dallas wasn't a huge surprise. Parsons had gotten to know Cuban during All-Star Weekend in Houston in 2013 and then, a few months later, met Dirk Nowitzki in Las Vegas when both he and the Mavericks' face of the franchise bumped into each other on postseason excursions in Sin City. Cuban and a player from another team making a connection was nothing new; bantering with rivals from his familiar seat on the baseline in Dallas has been a staple of an ownership reign that, come January, will have spanned 15 years. But Parsons and the famously low-key Nowitzki hit it off, too, which resulted in Parsons accepting an invitation shortly thereafter to play in Nowitzki's annual charity baseball game that June in Dallas.
"He said he loved baseball and played it in high school," Nowitzki recalled. "I called him a couple weeks later to make sure he still wanted to do it, and he said, 'I'm in.'"
Yet the most serious early interest in Parsons in 2014 free agency actually came from Cleveland. It was widely assumed in Mavericks circles that Dallas would turn its attentions to Parsons once formally eliminated as an option by Melo and LeBron, but sources told ESPN.com that Parsons -- before things really heated up with his eventual new employers -- found himself being recruited by another All-Star peer he regards as a friend: Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.
Sources say the Cavs, furthermore, would soon inform Parsons he was "Cleveland's guy" if their ambitious bid to bring LeBron home unraveled.
The Mavs, though, finally buckled on the ninth day of free agency. Anthony hadn't yet officially let his various suitors know he was staying with the New York Knicks. And Dallas was technically still on the fringes of the LeBron pursuit after Cuban had been granted a face-to-face meeting in Cleveland with LeBron's agent, Rich Paul, just a few days earlier. But Cuban decided he could no longer stomach waiting.
Two days before James announced to the world, in an essay co-written with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, he was indeed returning to the Cavs after four seasons on South Beach, Parsons and Dallas verbally agreed to a three-year deal that was a virtual three-year max. The Mavericks, sources said, would later learn the Rockets actually offered Parsons a two-year max deal, valued at more than $30 million, on that same day to stay in Houston. But Parsons elected to sign the Dallas offer sheet.
"I was just very comfortable with those guys," Parsons said. "I know Mark will never let the Mavericks be bad. He's one of those owners that, if you get the chance to play for him, you gotta take it."
"I told Chandler from the start [of free agency]: 'Do you want me to be brutally honest with you?'" Cuban says now. "And he said yes. So I told him with as much granularity as I could that I think it's a 10 percent chance at best that we could get Melo, but we had to try. Then, we started hearing our percentage was getting higher, and I told Chandler that, too.
"But then, when we weren't hearing a whole lot from the Melo camp, we knew we were pretty much out. So I told Chandler [on July 9]: 'I could end up being the dumbest idiot in NBA history, but even if LeBron comes back to us and says he's choosing us, I'm committing to you.'"
And that's how they wound up in The Attic not long after July 9 had bled into July 10.
To be perfectly honest, I would have accepted a lot less money early in the process to stay in Houston. But they told me they wanted to wait for the whole LeBron and Melo situation [to play out], which I understood.
"-- Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons
Cuban hopped on a plane soon after Parsons gave his "yes" to the Mavs. Parsons proceeded to a big dinner with family and friends to celebrate while Cuban was in the air, then led his group on foot to the nearby lounge shortly after midnight.
"It wasn't planned to go and sign this contract at some bar," Parsons said. "Cuban's flight was delayed, so he hit me when he landed and asked where I was. Twenty minutes later, he just showed up with the contract.
"Next thing you know the DJ kind of turned off the music [and] I was signing. It turned into a lot bigger deal than it was supposed to be."
You could say the same about the whole experience for Parsons, who had been told repeatedly by the Rockets -- as far back as his exit interview in May -- that he wasn't going anywhere. The Rockets, Parsons recounts, informed him they planned to match any offer he got, even if they did go ahead and allow him to become a restricted free agent.
Sources say Parsons' camp was hoping to secure a four-year, $48 million deal before it even got that far. But Houston, hoping to give itself every chance of making a splashy July signing and then matching on Parsons to form its very own Fab Four of sorts, stunned many league observers by consenting in June to decline Parsons' $964,750 option for the 2014-15 season and make him a restricted free agent.
"Daryl told me this process is going to be frustrating and you're going to read a lot of stuff you're not going to like, but at the end of the day, you've worked hard for this and you've earned this," Parsons said. "He warned me it could get ugly at times once the media gets involved and that you're gonna see people say you're not worth this or you're not worth that. [Morey] just sat me down and said, 'Go out and sign the best contract you can. Just know in the back of your head that we're gonna match the contract.'
"Dan was trying to negotiate something with them early, and, to be perfectly honest, I would have accepted a lot less money early in the process to stay in Houston. But they told me they wanted to wait for the whole LeBron and Melo situation [to play out], which I understood. I just listened to them. I signed the best deal I could for my own career.
"I have nothing but respect for those guys and nothing but great memories there. That was home for three years, and I'm gonna miss Houston. I did think they were gonna match, but they had to do what they thought was best for their organization, and I had to do what I thought was best for my career."
THE DALLAS DROUGHT
Summertime skeptics were prone to say the Mavericks targeted Parsons so aggressively in free agency as much because they wanted to hurt their I-45 rivals as they hoped to help themselves.
"We were not trying to stick it to the Rockets," Cuban counters. "We wanted Chandler."
The Mavs had quietly made the decision at season's end that they would likely not be re-signing the versatile and dependable Shawn Marion, so they knew they needed a new small forward.
They also badly wanted to get younger.
They wanted to add an indisputably on-the-rise player in his 20s.
And, most of all, they wanted to finally make a free-agent splash after their high-profile strikeouts in the summers of 2012 and 2013, when they pursued the likes of Deron Williams and Howard but came up empty.
So how did they laser in on Parsons?
"Because I had a relationship with him, but more importantly because he's a multifaceted player, and we thought that's what we needed," Cuban said.
"Chandler is somebody who can be a glue guy. He's somebody who can score. He's somebody who can pass. He's somebody who can pass or create. He also throws the lob, and he's got a great floater. And he's somebody who can learn from Dirk. He just brought a lot of things to the table.
"No matter how you look at it -- eye test, Synergy [Sports Technology], analytics -- I think he's the type of player who's going to add value to our team and make other players better."
The trouble for the Mavericks is that Parsons, like two of the other top-five targets on Dallas' list, was a dreaded restricted free agent, which put them at great risk to strike out again. But they went into July anyway with the plan to chase Melo and LeBron for as long as it made sense ... and then to zero in on the most gettable of the three restricteds they coveted.
"LeBron and Melo, those are long shots," Cuban concedes. "But you do 'em because you have to run things out. People give you a hard time when you don't get this person or that person, but you never win any games you don't play. And in the worst case you develop a relationship for the next time something comes up. It's as much about trying to develop relationships as it is about trying to hit the home run.
"When it comes to restricted free agency, you look at what it takes to get the player away and you can't pay less than that. We went through and looked at all the numbers and all the permutations, and we realized that the pricing for free agents in this market was going to be far more than anybody expected, just because of how cap room was playing out and who the free agents were."
"We were not trying to stick it to the Rockets. We wanted Chandler.
"-- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
And that, Cuban revealed, led to a series of internal meetings to let various key members of the Mavericks know that Parsons -- if Dallas could get him -- would likely make more money in the coming season than anyone except Tyson Chandler, who is playing out the final season of a four-year, $55.4 million contract he got from the Knicks when the Mavs initially decided they wouldn't be keeping their title team together after the 2011 lockout and the new labor agreement it spawned.
"First I had to tell our coaches that all the value propositions we calculated and planned for [going into the summer] were wrong," Cuban said. "Then I had the same conversation with Dirk. Then I had the same conversation with Monta [Ellis]. Then I had somewhat of the same conversation with Vince [Carter] ... and, obviously, that didn't help [because Carter would later sign with the Memphis Grizzlies].
"I didn't want any of them to think that valuations and prices reflected how we felt about new players versus how we felt about them. It was important for me to be inclusive with all of our guys so they knew what was going on. I explained to Monta that this is not how we value you relative to [Parsons]; it was just the price of poker. And he said: 'I got you, Mark. I trust you. I understand what you're saying.'"
Ellis' arrival, after Houston beat Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Howard sweepstakes, had saved Dallas' summer in 2013 when he clicked instantly with Nowitzki as Dirk's new pick-and-roll partner. The huge pay cut Nowitzki then authorized this past summer, dropping his salary from nearly $23 million last season to $8 million this season, means he and Ellis are sporting twin three-year, $25 million deals that left enough salary-cap space for the Mavericks to construct the offer sheet to Parsons that Houston found unpalatable.
No surprise, then, that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has been pushing Parsons for weeks, not waiting for training camp to challenge the new guy. According to Parsons, Carlisle made a habit in recent weeks of texting pictures of the Mavericks' empty locker room at nights, jokingly challenging Parsons -- before he had even moved to Dallas -- to explain himself as to why he wasn't there. The message: We expect you to put in overtime to live up to what we have planned for you.
"He's a sponge, and he wants to be coached hard," Carlisle said. "We love him, and he's going to be a terrific player for us."
Said Nowitzki: "I like him a lot. For a big guy, he's really, really versatile. He doesn't just shoot it. He's a 6-9 guy who can run a pick-and-roll and is a great passer for his size. He's better at ballhandling and passing than I've ever been. Offensive rebounding -- he sneaks in there and gets a few. He makes plays on the ball, off the ball. He's a really, really smart player. He can do a little bit of everything."
THE ROCKETS' DICE ROLL
Legend has it that Morey, not long after assuming control of Houston's front office after the 2006-07 season, commissioned an in-house study of the makeup of championship teams, which concluded that winning it all in the NBA almost always requires three elite players.
"We study everything," Morey said when asked to verify the story.
The reality, of course, is the way the Rockets have gone about roster building throughout Morey's tenure would have essentially confirmed the tale even if he hadn't been so willing. After the headline-grabbing acquisitions of James Harden and Howard leading into the past two seasons, Houston has been openly hunting for elite No. 3 to complete the triumvirate.
In countless interviews since Parsons' departure, Morey has tried repeatedly to let it be known that, as he put it to ESPN.com, there's "no doubt in my mind that Chandler can become one of the top players in this league." Houston, however, came to another key conclusion along the way, deciding it would exhaust every avenue to acquire a player this summer who had already reached that level -- or keep open as many options as they could to continue the hunt if they swung and missed -- even if it meant having to sacrifice Parsons and one of the league's most favorable contracts.
Chances are you know by now what happened next. After launching into free agency by romancing former Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry and then hosting Anthony on a visit to Houston, Morey & Co. went all out to steal Chris Bosh away from Miami once they started to sniff the possibility that LeBron was actually leaving the Heat.
The Rockets' dream scenario, cemented on July 11 once LeBron reinvented himself as a Cav, was creating enough salary-cap space to sign Bosh to a four-year max deal and then, with all of their flexibility happily spent on a Harden-Howard-Bosh triumvirate, going the very pricey route of matching Dallas' offer sheet to Parsons to create a full-fledged superteam.
"Given our understanding of where things were," Morey said recently, "we felt like we were 95 percent-plus to potentially having the best team in the league. There was nothing promised, but I did believe [Bosh] was coming in almost every scenario except the one that happened at the last minute [Miami trumping Houston's offer with a five-year max]."
And that's why, shortly after LeBron announced to the world he was rejoining the Cavs, Houston agreed to trade guard Jeremy Lin to the Lakers. The Rockets were still only negotiating with Bosh at that point but, having already struck a deal on draft night to trade Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans, went ahead with the Lin trade before securing Bosh's commitment because (A) L.A. wouldn't wait any longer and (B) sources say that trading Lin to the Philadelphia 76ers would have cost Houston multiple future first-round picks as opposed to the solitary first-rounder the Lakers were seeking in return for absorbing Lin's contract. The Rockets, in other words, couldn't afford to let the Lakers move on without Lin if they wanted to create enough cap space to sign Bosh.
That's also why Houston had long since bowed out of the running for Lowry almost as quickly as the Rockets emerged as an interested suitor for the Toronto Raptors' rugged floor leader. Sources say Lowry did show some legit interest himself in rejoining the Rockets before re-signing with Toronto, but nothing appeals more to the Morey administration than a top-shelf power forward who can step outside and space the floor for Howard. Which is how Bosh, Kevin Love and a certain Texas-based stretch-4 named Nowitzki emerged as Houston's three fantasy targets from the day it hustled Howard away from the mighty Lakers.
"Our decision had nothing to do with the [notion] that we don't think Chandler can be a star," Morey says. "My job is to bet on what is the best bet for the Rockets, not on what [Parsons] can or can't do. I absolutely believe Chandler can be the player that he wants to be, but I have to always worry about two things. No. 1: making the team great, and No. 2: making sure that, if I'm wrong about making the team great, that I can continue to improve the team. So I have to weigh those two goals at all times.
"If you have an older core player like the Mavs do with Dirk, you worry less about that. If you have a younger core like us, you have to worry more about how to continue to improve the team versus just figuring out how to make the team great at that time. My point to Chandler was 'If we get to the playoffs and we again disappointed [as with last season's first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers], there would be no way for me to continue to improve the team if we matched your offer sheet.' I had to make a bet on Chandler being part of that core and having no ability to maneuver. Or the other scenario."
That other scenario, after missing out on Bosh, called for signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year, $32 million deal to take Parsons' place and as the Rockets quietly hope, offset Harden's defensive deficiencies with his own stellar D. The comparison whispered in Houston's hallways is that Ariza will do for Harden what Shane Battier used to do for Tracy McGrady.
(In the summer of 2016), sources say, the Rockets would like to give Harden an opportunity to serve as Houston's lead recruiter in the pursuit of a free agent named Kevin Wayne Durant.
From there, Houston plans to resume its pursuit for that third star with assets such as a tasty Pelicans lottery pick obtained in the Asik trade ... and an $8.3 million trade exception created in the same deal ... and potential trade chips such as young power forward Terrence Jones and well-regarded international prospects Kostas Papanikolaou and Sergio Llull.
The Rockets are widely expected to take a step back this season, thanks to all the depth they squandered on the Bosh dice roll, but they expect to have significant salary-cap room next summer -- when they can chase point guards as accomplished as Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo if they choose -- as well as in the summer of 2016.
Which is when, sources say, they'd like to give Harden an opportunity to serve as Houston's lead recruiter in the pursuit of a free agent named Kevin Wayne Durant.
Morey is naturally unwilling (and not allowed by league rules) to discuss any specifics on those fronts. But he likewise won't budge from his oft-recited claims that the Rockets -- no matter what you think of their July dealings or how his critics in rival front offices see it -- remain a top-five destination in the league that is home to two of the NBA's top 10 players.
"We are always going to be swinging big," Morey said. "We're only about trying to win championships and how to make that happen. We take big swings at things. Obviously, it worked out the last two summers, but the only way you can land a James Harden or a Dwight Howard is by taking big swings. Sometimes, you hit. Sometimes, you miss. Bosh chose to stay in Miami, but that's not always going to be the case.
"If that had worked out, everyone is obviously writing a very different story about the Rockets, but it didn't work out. And we had to choose the best path when it didn't work out.
"I'm very comfortable we made the right decisions all along given the info we had. It's only the scenario where you know all the information at the end where you can go back and say 'This was a good decision or this was a bad decision.'"
THE CONTRACT CLINCHER
In one of his first interviews after Houston elected not to match the Mavericks' offer sheet to Parsons, Morey told SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston: "That structure of that [contract] is literally one of the most untradeable structures that I've ever seen."
The wrinkle that made it so: Parsons signed a tricky three-year deal with the Mavs, with an option to return to free agency after Year 2, as opposed to the four-year offer sheet Dallas, or any other external suitor, could have lavished on him.
Quite a difference that one year made.
Parsons and his agent, Dan Fegan, were convinced they'd receive a meaty offer sheet as early as July 1 or, by the latest, July 5. But the four-year pitches being presented in those early days of free agency were all coming in well shy of max territory, thanks to Houston's effective campaign to convince the outside world the Rockets were going to match whatever came their way.
About a week into the process, Fegan decided it was time to try to propose something different. And that led him to the three-year construction, featuring the Year 2 player option and a maximum 15 percent trade kicker. He then took to it Cuban, convinced that the new formula would put the most pressure on Houston to let Parsons go if the Rockets hoped to maintain the utmost flexibility. For the following reasons:
• Players in the first year of a matched offer sheet can't be traded without their consent.
• With the ability to become a free agent after the second year, Parsons would likely have diminished trade value to small-market teams fearful he'd simply leave at the first opportunity ... while also potentially dissuading big-market teams that prize flexibility from trading for him and then seeing Parsons decide to opt in for the third year.
• The trade kicker in this contract could also prove to be even more expensive than usual, were Parsons to be dealt, if the salary cap rises as dramatically as some are projecting thanks to the TV money expected to pour into the league in the near future, as ESPN.com's Larry Coon explains in greater detail here.
• And in the Rockets' case specifically, Parsons' possession of an option to become a free agent in July 2016 meant he and Howard would likely be returning to the open market at the same time, which figured to be uncomfortable for Houston.
"It created the most amount of problems for them," Cuban said. "The trade kicker not only made [the contract] more expensive, but the opt out [after Year 2] could create a Kevin Love-type situation for any teams interested in trading for him, where you don't know if he's gonna opt in or opt out."
The impact this three-year pact and its various complications had on Parsons' fate has some league observers wondering now if shorter contract offers from big-market teams to future restricted free agents, such as the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard and Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio if they make it to the open market next July, will become more commonplace.
"The contract structure was extremely creative," Cavs general manager David Griffin said. "I think it will be a significant moment in the way restricted free agency discussions are handled in the future."
Said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace: "The concept of a short-term offer sheet is intriguing and could be the wave of the future. With the reduction in the decision time to match reduced to three days, the team who writes an offer sheet is only out of action for a short period of time. [So] there is no downside. If the sheet is not matched, you have your player, and if it is matched, then the player will be back on the market soon, which increases the pool of players in free agency two or three years down the road."
For me, going after Bosh -- even though it didn't work -- was absolutely the right scenario. A good analogy is if you have 11 in blackjack and the right play is to double down. If you happen to get a two and lose, it doesn't make doubling down the wrong decision. It just means it didn't work out that time.
"-- Rockets GM Daryl Morey
The Rockets, though, told Bosh they were nonetheless prepared to match the offer sheet to Parsons in spite of all those booby traps had he been willing to join them. They told the same thing to Howard and Harden. But when the Heat slapped a five-year max offer down to the native Texan -- something NBA rules allowed only Miami, as the incumbent team, to do -- Bosh elected to stick with South Beach. This led the Rockets, with their tantalizing dreams of constructing a superteam derailed, to conclude that signing Ariza for nearly $7 million less annually and keeping so many more options open to continue upgrading the roster was the next-best course.
Even if it meant cutting ties with a younger and more versatile small forward who was super-tight with Houston's franchise center.
"Once they had signed Trevor Ariza, I kind of got the feeling then that they weren't going to match," Parsons said.
The Rockets, in a way, were also victims of their own success with Parsons, who unexpectedly became one of the stars of his draft class -- like legendary second-rounders Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas before him -- despite being drafted so low at No. 38 overall. You don't expect second-rounders to develop the way Parsons did as a Rocket, which proved problematic in Houston's case because even a second-rounder on a four-year deal can get to unrestricted free agency faster than a first-rounder. Second-rounders on modest salaries, furthermore, aren't eligible for the lucrative and exclusive extension windows that teams have to try to lock up prized first-round picks after three seasons.
The Rockets were nevertheless questioned for letting Parsons become a restricted free agent in the first place, in what they deemed a calculated bid to put the pieces of the championship team together, when they could have made him stay for one more season at $964,750 and then dealt with unrestricted free agency when they had to. Speculation immediately swirled that Houston gave in to Parsons' repeated requests to become a free agent as early as possible in a bow to his role in steering Howard to Houston.
But Morey, in that same interview with SportsTalk 790, insisted "we feel strongly that turning down Chandler's option [gave] us a better chance to win a championship than not turning it down."
In an even stronger tone, Morey told ESPN.com, "Just because we put ourselves in this advantageous situation of being able to either keep Chandler or not, I don't understand the hand-wringing over that. To me, it makes no sense to beat up a franchise which did a good thing, which is to create that flexibility by signing Chandler to a four-year deal in the first place. If we had signed [Parsons to] a three-year deal initially, would people have said, 'Why didn't those idiots give him a fourth-year option?' Of course not.
"There are a lot of reasons that went into us turning down Chander's option. Ninety-nine percent of second-round contracts are two or three years [long], but we signed him to a very unique structure that was very advantageous to the team. If we had just signed him to a normal two- or three-year deal, again, no one would be talking about it. People have asked, 'Would you have done things differently?' At the time we made the decision, I know I was very comfortable with the decision."
Of the Rockets' grand plan to steal Bosh away from the Heat and then match the Parsons offer sheet after securing that proven third star, Morey added: "For me, going after Bosh -- even though it didn't work -- was absolutely the right scenario. A good analogy is if you have 11 in blackjack and the right play is to double down. If you happen to get a two and lose, it doesn't make doubling down the wrong decision. It just means it didn't work out that time."
THE STATE OF THE RIVALRY
The animus between these franchises actually predates Morey's April 2006 arrival in Texas. Long before the Rockets GM and Cuban ever traded haymakers in the media, Dallas and Houston engaged in a seven-game roller-coaster in the first round of the 2005 playoffs in which the Rockets won the first two games on the road, only for the Mavericks to haul themselves off the canvas and ultimately win Game 7 at home by an eye-popping 40 points.
The Mavs have only a handful of holdovers from that series who are still with the organization, but those holdovers haven't forgotten how testy that matchup was, with then-Rockets vets Jon Barry and Bob Sura and their fondness for making the famed "three goggles" gesture to celebrate 3-pointers particularly infuriating Dallas.
The competition between the teams, though, has grown increasingly and legitimately fierce over the past few seasons, after the Rockets expertly amassed a collection of trade assets sufficiently bountiful to convince the Oklahoma City Thunder to deal Harden to Houston shortly before the start of the 2012-13 season. Harden's presence then prompted Howard to choose Houston over Dallas when he decided to leave the Lakers in July 2013, which led to Cuban publicly questioning Howard's wisdom and thus setting the stage for the back-and-forth sniping we get these days ... after Cuban also explained that Morey offended him by following up Houston's Howard coup by asking the Mavs if they'd be willing to trade Nowitzki.
It has since reached the point at which Cuban, who has been known to look for such feuds to spice up the day-to-day grind of an 82-game season, is regularly exchanging jabs with Morey through the media.
And ulterior motives are now reflexively assumed any time either team chases a player with ties to the other.
I love Dwight and James. They were great teammates. I've said a million times that Dwight is the best teammate I've ever had.
"-- Chandler Parsons
Just as the Mavericks were accused in some corners of pursuing Parsons as retribution for the Dirk trade inquiry, Houston heard the same last month when it traded for longtime Mavs backcourt fixture Jason Terry. Further tension between the franchises stems from the Gersson Rosas saga, with Dallas hiring the Houston executive away from the Rockets shortly after losing out on Howard in the name of beefing up its analytics wing and adding a new voice, only for Rosas to clash with some of his new colleagues in the Mavericks front office and return to the Rockets within a few months.
Yet Parsons, for his part, insists there will be no lingering ill will at Tuesday night's reunion with he and his former teammates -- not even after both Howard and Harden loudly downplayed the impact of Parsons' departure when they were initially asked about it in July.
"First of all, I love Dwight and James," Parsons said. "They were great teammates. I've said a million times that Dwight is the best teammate I've ever had. Those guys are proven superstars. I haven't gotten to that level yet. I've got nothing but love for those guys off the court.
"There's nothing hostile there. We're friends. I understand where those guys are coming from. They still have to back and support and stick up for their team, and I totally get that."
In August, when Harden and Parsons were briefly reunited as part of Team USA, Harden was already softening his initial claim that all Rockets not named Dwight or James were merely "role players," saying, "We lost Chandler and we lost Omer, and they were key pieces to our team. The opportunities were there [for them]. Chandler got paid a lot of money. It was a similar situation to what I was in with Oklahoma City, so I'm definitely happy for him. I was in the same situation, so I have nothing negative to say to him. I'm happy for him, and I wish him the best of luck."
Said Howard last week in a "SportsCenter" interview: "As soon as [Parsons] signed with Dallas, I called him and told him congratulations. I was very happy for him. He worked extremely hard. It's tough seeing somebody go that you really care about. Our friendship was great while he was here, and I wish him nothing but the best. I wish he was still on this team, but it's not my decision. It's my job to go out and play."
At the executive level, meanwhile, Cuban and Morey seem able to brush aside the aforementioned tension easier than you'd think. While it remains to be seen whether Cuban will be a panelist again anytime soon at Morey's annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, it should be noted that Dallas and Houston shelved any ill feelings in the immediate aftermath of July's heated love triangle to at least explore sign-and-trade possibilities after Parsons committed to Dallas.
Cuban likewise hasn't forgotten how Morey took the step of letting Parsons and the Mavs know, on the afternoon of July 13, the Rockets wouldn't be matching, when he could have dragged the drama out for several more hours.
"Because Daryl's a good guy," Cuban said when asked why he thinks Morey didn't keep everyone waiting. "Because he's not a jerk."
"Whether we won or lost the deal for Dwight Howard, it was a logical thing for him to call about Dirk," Cuban says now. "I took it as taunting initially, but the more I thought about it, it was the logical move to make. And when you're logical, it's hard to have animosity."
There's that Spock analogy again.
Morey, meanwhile, says of his recent rant to Yahoo! Sports in the wake of a radio interview Cuban gave KRLD-FM in Dallas suggesting that the Rockets are overly reliant on analytics and don't value chemistry as much as the Mavs: "I just said what I said because some of his [criticisms] went to the competitive dynamics of free agency, so I had to defend our position. In terms of me and Mark, I think we're in a good place."
Until the next almighty Mavericks/Rockets tug-of-war over a free agent.