It took months for Chandler Parsons to become Chandler Parsons this season. After minor hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee last May, the Swiss army knife forward missed seven of the season's first 21 games while his recovery required weeks of minutes restrictions that weren't lifted until late December. Throughout, Parsons tried his best to stay upbeat, even as his play on the court rarely reflected the player who he had been his previous four seasons.
But something changed in mid-January and Parsons finally turned a corner. Since then, Parsons doesn't just look like his old self, but is playing arguably the best basketball of his career. In his last 19 games, Parsons has scored more than 20 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field and 51 percent from behind the arc, grabbing nearly six rebounds and dishing almost three assists per game with just 1.4 turnovers.
The Dallas Mavericks have had their own struggles, briefly fearing that they'd drop out of the playoff race completely. An easy schedule to begin March has given them a bit of breathing room and the playoffs, at least, seem likely.
But with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder at the top, it's hard not to sneak glances at this coming summer, where Parsons will almost assuredly decline a player option $16 million and hit the open market in search of a max contract.
Why Chandler Parsons will earn top dollar
It depends on where exactly the cap falls, but a maximum salary for Parsons will start around $22 million this summer. Although his season averages still aren't great thanks to the slow rehab process, Parsons' recent play has put him right back on track for a full payout from someone this summer.
Between James Harden, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, Parsons has never been the main option on a team. There are reasons to believe he can be that, at least with the right pieces around him. At the least, Parsons looks like a high-level secondary scorer.
While not an elite athlete, Parsons is quick. His 6'10 frame allows him to make difficult finishes look easy, and he's one of the best dribblers and passers in the NBA at his size. His career-high 41 percent shooting on threes is matched by Parsons making a career-high 71 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket. When the ball is kicked out to him against an already scrambling defense, he's lethal, able to shoot over a closeout or drive right by his man for a high-quality look at the rim.
Parsons has played more than a quarter of his minutes at power forward this season, too, another career high. He's defended big men like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns surprisingly well while attacking the slower players effectively. What's interesting is that Dallas isn't even fully set up for him to succeed and his ceiling may be even higher.
Last summer, the Mavericks infamously pursued DeAndre Jordan in part because he would have been the perfect player to put next to Parsons. Zaza Pachulia has been a suitable replacement for Dallas, and bad defenses like Minnesota get burned by Parsons anyway. But an athletic rim runner is what the Mavericks (or another team looking to sign Parsons) really needs, someone who can pull defenses to him or catch any and all alley oops lobbed his way. You can see how a stronger defense could shut down this pick-and-roll and Pachulia's slow shuffle into the paint.
Parsons is still the best pick-and-roll ball handler on the Mavericks and the team scores 0.89 points per possession when he runs them, per NBA.com's Synergy data. But last year with Tyson Chandler, Parsons was scoring even more efficiently -- more than a point per possession. Put him next to a true rolling big man and teams around the league salivate at what Parsons and his rare mix of size, ball handling, shooting and passing instincts could become.
Why Parsons may not be back in Dallas
This all seems fine and great, and these are the reasons that Mark Cuban originally signed Parsons in the summer of 2014, notably inking the offer sheet in a nightclub. But there have been some questions this season whether head coach Rick Carlisle, who just signed a five-year extension with the Mavericks, feels the same way.
Several times in January and once earlier in the month, Carlisle opted to close games with Raymond Felton instead of Parsons. When asked about it, Carlisle only had praise for the 27-year-old, saying this was just a continued part of his rehab. But actions speak louder than words, and Parsons seems to be somewhat concerned that the two see his role moving into the future differently.
ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported Tuesday that the Orlando Magic -- Parsons' hometown team -- will have the best chance at signing him away from Dallas, and that a plethora of teams will at least reach out to him. Dallas still appears to be the heavy favorite -- Parsons has a great relationship Dirk Nowitzki, enjoys the partying Cuban and has been celebrated by Mavericks fans after his scathing remarks directed at Jordan after the summer fiasco. But if Carlisle doesn't think he's the key to the future, then Parsons may see his future better spent elsewhere on a team that will allow him to be a No. 1 option, or at least give it a good shot.
Parsons sat the entire fourth quarter on Sunday in a game against the, but that was because Dallas had blown them out and the game was all but over. As long as that's the only reason why Parsons sits during the fourth in the season's closing months, there's every reason to believe Parsons will double down on Dallas as the place for him.
If not, though, that will only stoke the flames of a potential free agency departure.
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