Chandler Parsons and the remaining questions facing Dallas

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of Chandler Parsons saved Dallas' offseason, but there are still a lot of questions regarding what this team will look like and what they still need to do.

After the Tyson Chandler trade was completed, I said that how the trade was viewed would likely hinge on what the Mavericks did to fill out the roster around him.

It turns out that mostly what the Mavs did was Chandler Parsons, and in the interim between when the Mavericks levied an offer sheet to him and when he was actually signed, Dallas' entire offseason -- not just the Tyson trade -- was relying entirely upon Parsons signing with Dallas.

There are still a lot of questions in the air, though, and it's entirely possible that the Mavericks' offseason -- yes, this offseason that Mavs fans everywhere love -- may not have really been a huge success.

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that I'm in love with the moves that Dallas has made thus far, and I'm in love with the team that the front office has built. I think it'll be a killer team. But it's important to note that I love all this moves because they were ballsy and creative, and creative in the basketball world also means risky. It's possible that this team will not be as good as a lot of people (again, myself included) think they will be.

Or, perhaps more accurately, this team looks awesome on paper, but they have a lot to prove.

Last season's team, which for all the optimism was still only an 8th seed, was so successful because they were the 3rd best offense in the league. We've talked about that team a lot, so it's easy to take that for granted, but let that sink in for a second. Third best. Last year's offense was better than that of the Rockets, the Blazers, the Spurs, the Thunder, and the Warriors.

Their defense was atrocious, of course, and the team was historically successful given a defense that atrocious. That was the goal coming into the offseason then, fixing the defense. Ostensibly, they've done that.

Devin Harris is a significantly better defender than Jose Calderon and Tyson Chandler is leagues better than Samuel Dalembert. Monta Ellis, hopefully, will improve a bit with a little more time under Carlisle's wing and with a real rim protector behind him.

All of which brings us back to the real question mark, and the player with which this offseason lives or dies: Chandler Parsons.

The defense of the team was the focus going in, and Parsons' defense is a huge question mark. For the record, I don't mean question mark as in, "he's not good," I mean it as in, "I'm genuinely not sure how good his defense is."

Part of the problem in measuring how Parsons will be on defense has been his inconsistency, but it's also partly that I'm not sure how to measure Shawn Marion's performance last season, who he is replacing.

Marion has been declining fairly steadily for the last few years, that much is apparent, but it's hard to know exactly how far his defense had sunk by the end of last season. Marion remained versatile, capable of defending the 1-4, and he was still good at funneling players into the right lanes to stop a drive or play.

He'd clearly lost a step though, and could often get caught missing rotations (especially when he needed to rotate to the rim), and he got blown by often. He also allowed a staggeringly high percentage to bigger players when he played the 4 or defended the 5, per 82games.com.

Chandler Parsons will get similarly ripped by larger guys, that much seems to be clear, but the real question is if he can keep up with smaller players the way Marion could, and the jury is still out on that one, to be honest.

To the naked eye (I wasn't as big on stats back then) Parsons seemed like a really solid-to-very good defender in his rookie year. If I recall correctly, that was more or less his calling card in the season before the Harden trade. In the last two years, his defense has appeared more O.J. Mayo-esque: pretty good at one-on-one D, but a bit too lazy to make the necessary rotations. Will Parsons be able to show the promise he did initially under Carlisle?

On the other hand, in Real Plus Minus, ESPN's stat that attempts to measure impact without the influence of the other players on the court, Shawn Marion's impact on defense was only .1 points per 100 possessions better than Parson's was last year.

Whether Parsons can or can't at least replicate Marion's defense from last year is huge, because consider: Devin hasn't been a consistently good defender throughout his career, and as lots of people are keen to point out, Tyson is on the downswing of his career. If Parsons is decidedly worse than Marion, and if Harris' effort slacks, and if Tyson isn't who we expect, how does this team look all of a sudden?

It's important to note that this team took a hit on offense with the way it's constructed. Parsons is a great scorer, sure, but Devin isn't. He shot a pathetic 37.8 percent from the field last season. Marion was a better scorer than he is, probably, and Jose Calderon, for all his warts, is an all-time great 3-point shooter -- absolutely elite.

The Mavericks have lost a very consistent playmaker and an absolute elite floor spacer. A Calderon-Dirk Nowitzki pick and roll forced contortions in a defense that no combination of players on this roster can replicate, and that has huge repercussions that echo down into the rest of the roster.

The switch from having Jose Calderon to starting Devin Harris isn't necessarily a bad thing. Jose was untenable with Monta in the lineup next to him, and Devin is presumably a much better fit there. Devin's a good playmaker too, though, and he's chaotic as hell, which makes lineups with him, Monta, Dirk, and a shooter fun because no one knows what the hell is going on.

The big question, again, is Chandler Parsons. He's a dead eye shooter, an absolute killer from long range, but he's not elite the way Jose was. He's not a good enough ball handler and shooter off the dribble to force people to play him incredibly tightly around a screen. He'll stretch defenses plenty, but won't bend and break them by himself.

Basically, he's a good enough shooter to get the good stuff out of Devin, and he's probably good enough off and on the ball to play well with Monta. What we don't know is if he's creative enough to get the most out of those guys. Is he a good enough cutter to punish teams for not keeping a close eye on him on the perimeter? Is he a good enough shooter moving off of screens to bend defenses like Kyle Korver?

If he's not, the offense will need to contort itself a bit more than it had to last season, and that's a concern. It'll be worth watching, too, whether Monta and Devin can continue to punish defenses with spot up opportunities, because if not, that too spells trouble, without an instant-space machine like Jose.

This offseason is a success if this team ends up being more tenable long-term than last season's team. The moves probably improved the defense by a significant margin, so as long as the offense is comparable, the offseason was a success.

The risk is that the defense wasn't upgraded quite as much as we thought, and if the Mavs have suffered a drop off on offense that isn't sufficiently compensated by an upgraded defense, or if Parsons isn't as great a scorer in the system and the offense really plummets, then Dallas will find itself in a tough position next offseason, with far less cap space and a dearth of trade-able assets.

This offseason hinges on Chandler Parsons, then, and whether he's a good enough shooter, a good enough ball handler, a smart enough mover and a good enough defender. Devin Harris' shooting and defense and Tyson Chandler's impact will be important to watch too, of course, but this team, and Parsons, still have a lot to prove.

For what it's worth, the available data and what we know about these guys would seem to indicate that these Mavs have managed to make a massive leap forward with fairly scarce resources, and that's really awesome and really exciting, but it's worth remembering that there's a lot yet to happen.

The offseason hasn't ended yet though, and there's still pieces to fill. At the moment, the depth chart looks like so:

Screen_shot_2014-07-14_at_9.08.49_pm_medium

The Mavs did a great job filling out their depth with super-value signings for players who can fill a large chunk of minutes in Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson. Both guys are on minimum deals, and can soak up a ton of minutes as reserves. Smith is a killer backup, and Jefferson can shoot threes, at least, which makes him valuable for 10 or fewer minutes per game.

The most obvious hole to still be filled is backup 2 guard, and the options are dwindling pretty quickly.

The Mavs -- given that Parsons' deal increases as it goes along -- were just barely under the salary cap up through the Greg Smith trade, but the Richard Jefferson deal has just put them over. On the bright side, there's no risk of running into the tax.

The Mavericks have 3 roster spots available, and are at an estimated $63,865,306 in salary, or about $365,306 over the cap, which is possible because Jefferson's deal was at the league minimum.

To sign another two guard, the Mavericks have more league minimum salaries, and the more substantive mini-Mid Level Exception for teams that had cap space this summer, which is worth about $2.7 million.

The need for a two guard isn't as desperate as it might seem. Ledo isn't really ready for playing time, probably, but Cuban and Carlisle have both said that Parsons is flexible, so we can probably expect to see him at the 2 for up to 10 minutes per game. Richard Jefferson and Felton can make that 20-25, total.

Monta will probably be playing upwards of 40, so that position could be, theoretically, covered.

On the other hand, you probably don't want to leave up all your backup minutes to a starter playing out of position, Raymond "Red Velvet" Felton, and the corpse of Richard Jefferson.

Mo Williams is the name that's been tossed out a lot, and that would be great if Dallas could make it happen for $2.7 million. Williams is miles better than the Felton we've seen recently (though the Felton we've seen recently is unplay-ably bad, but both Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle seem fairly convinced they can turn Ray around) and all Dallas really needs for 15 minutes per game or less is a guy who can handle the ball and shoot threes.

The Mavericks have the league minimum salary and a mini Mid Level to fill out the roster

Mo was playing on the mini-MLE in Portland last season, so it doesn't seem unrealistic that he would take that for Dallas. On the other hand, reviews of his performance last season were mixed, and he may be hearing all the positive noise and assuming he's worth more.

There are decent options out there, though, if the Mavs can't come to terms with Williams, though he seems to be obviously far and away the best deal. Al-Farouq Aminu, Leandro Barbosa, Jerryd Bayless, Aaron Brooks, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Crawford, Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia, Brandan Rush, Ramon Sessions, and Evan Turner are all available still.

It is worth mentioning, though, that other than Williams and maybe (though I hope not) Evan Turner, the other players will all probably be available for the league minimum to fill the roster hole at the guard position.

If the Mavs end up missing on Mo Williams, they might be better served getting themselves another ball handler and guard on the minimum and using the mini-MLE on a final big man to shore up that rotation, and maybe buy Dirk some extra rest.

There aren't many big men available for the minimum (though Jason Collins is a UFA), but the likes of Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, Andray Blatche, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Drew Gooden, Jordan Hamilton, Kris Humphries, Jason Smith, Ed Davis and Emeka Okafor might all be available for the MLE.

What's clear, though, is that the Mavs don't have far to go in filling out this roster before they've got a full roster with a clear purpose and set of skills, that should be primed the be incredibly competitive. The likes of Jordan Crawford and Elton Brand don't make or break a team, at this point.

First, though, this team has to prove that they actually are what they're supposed to be.

Update: It was announced that Dirk will be taking a contract of 3 years for $25 million, not 3 years for $30 million, so the Mavericks actually have $1,301,361 in cap space before they are limited to minimum salary players and the mini-Mid Level. Keep in mind, then, that they can actually sign three of the players below, not two.

That said, sources close to Devin are saying that he will be given a 4 year, $16 million dollar contract, not the 3 year $9 mil that was reported, which would eliminate that cap space. If that's the case, Mavs will not have the extra space to spend and the original statements hold true.

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