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Zach Cunningham, Contributing Writer (@Zackerson)
After a national spurning by DeAndre Jordan this offseason, Dallas had to make do with what was leftover in free agency on the fly. Thanks to some good will and fortune, they held onto (read: overpaid) Wesley Matthews and managed a cheap-but-effective recovery plan in the middle with Zaza Pachulia and Samuel Dalembert. That, and a host of reclamation projects with potentially big upside, most notably Javale McGee.
Chandler Parsons is one of the five players who the Mavericks had under contract headed into July's offseason. Dallas' super-recruiter and Instagram extraordinaire is a solid pick-and-roll player and figures to be in the limelight a lot more this year with Monta Ellis gone to the Pacers.
Parsons is in the second year of his three-year contract with Dallas worth $46 million after the Rockets let him walk. He had a solid season last year with stats roughly equal to what he put up in Houston as a role player, but he's hungry for a bigger role. With a player option next summer, he's no doubt hungry for a bigger paycheck as the NBA's salary cap rises this coming summer in lieu of the new TV contracts.
While there are injury concerns about knee surgery in May but when healthy, there's more opportunities for Parsons to prove himself this season. That's exactly what he's said he's wanted -- everyone benefits if he has a career year, but it could also drive up his market value and further hamstring Dallas financially next summer, a team in dire need of stability among its roster.
Barring disaster, Parsons will opt out. However, it also puts the Mavericks in an all-too-familiar situation: bring back a known commodity or let him walk, like Tyson Chandler this summer.
If Parsons returns
With Dirk Nowitzki on the way out, Parsons is as close to a cornerstone as Dallas has moving forward. At 26, he's entering his prime and has shown tremendous upside as not only a spot-up shooter but with his ability to create off the dribble. He's invaluable to the Mavericks moving forward as a focal piece both on and off the court with his popularity and recruiting ability, the Jordan incident notwithstanding.
Getting Parsons to return to the Mavericks likely won't come cheap. He's slated to make $15.3 million this year and if (a highly unlikely if) he opts in, another $16 million in 2016-17. I'd pencil in $20 million as an approximate number the Mavericks are going to have to shell out for Parsons to bring him back next summer if all goes well.
It's not so much a problem of money for Dallas as they also will have more flexibility moving forward with the rising cap. Even Matthews' four-year, $70-million max agreement could seem like a bargain down the road. They'll have the flexibility to resign him with both Deron Williams and Dirk holding player options in 2016-17 and plenty of cap space.
Parsons said all the right things this summer in the wake of Jordan's indecision. He spoke of Dallas as "his city" and the Mavericks as "his organization." That all sounds like a player committed for the long haul, but if this summer taught Mavericks fans anything, it's that talk doesn't mean much.
If he stays, Dallas maintains hold of a player who's easily a top-10 small forward and remains relatively young at the position. Matthews and Parsons are a solid foundation for Dallas' free-flowing offense and would be well-suited to shoulder the burden left once Nowitzki retires. The duo would also give the Mavericks an attractive pitch to other free agents moving forward.
While Dallas' future is far from certain if Parsons stays, he does provide a glimmer of hope for a potentially young and talented team moving forward. With Matthews and Parsons both potentially locked up for the long haul, Dallas would be free to build its identity around two very capable players.
If Parsons leaves
What if a team overpays for Parsons, or the Mavericks are terrible and he wants to play for a contender? If Parsons leaves for whatever reason, Dallas isn't out of options. There's the extreme longshot that Kevin Durant could be swayed here, but more reasonable names at the small forward position with similar skill sets to Parsons are Nic Batum and Luol Deng. Unfortunately, after that, the list drops into relative obscurity.
If Parsons takes a more lucrative offer from another team, I'm sure the Mavericks would go all in for a major free agent, although it might not be at Parsons' position. Batum is a possible target, but if the Mavericks aren't careful, they could be operating without a safety net and find themselves kicking the tires on Gerald Wallace or Ersan Ilyasova.
Harrison Barnes would be another intriguing option as a restricted free agent, but one does not win championships running your offense through Harrison Barnes.
Dallas could potentially be left staring at the scrap heap again for the third time in six years in free agency if it loses Parsons. The Mavericks would have to once again rebuild its identity, an even harder task with Dirk's sure-to-be-coming retirement. Such circumstances might also lead to Dallas becoming even less desirable of a destination for free agents, something Mavericks' fans have an increasingly large inferiority complex about.
This may sound doom and gloom, but Parsons has assumed the role of cornerstone and spokesperson by his play so far and basically by his own admission this offseason. To lose such a player a year later would be devastating for Dallas. A complete rebuild would likely follow.