You would think that, this year at least, Chandler Parsons has no bigger fan than Rick Carlisle.
As Parsons put up meek numbers while returning from a brutal off-season knee surgery, Carlisle was always in Parsons corner -- he preached patience. The fan base groaned while Parsons remained invisible throughout much of November and December, but Carlisle praised Parsons rehab.
He told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com this back in December, during the doldrums of Parsons struggles: "He's working his ass off. He looked pissed. And he's got to stay pissed."
Fast forward a month and a half later and we're right back to the weird, wish-washy relationship Parsons has had with Carlisle since almost day one when Parsons signed his big deal back in the summer of 2014.
The latest moment in a series of strange back and forth was during the loss to the Heat on Wednesday night. Parsons struggled after a strong first quarter and was shooting 4-of-13 from the field for just 12 points until Parsons subbed him out with 6:05 left to play.
As Parsons continued to ride the bench for the crunch time in the fourth quarter, I was wondering all sorts of things.
Is he hurt? He was hobbling a bit earlier, maybe just as a precaution he needs to sit. Oh God J.J. Barea means the Mavs are going zone. Could use Parsons size right now. Time to jump off a highway.
Turns out Parsons wasn't hurt, as he checked back into the game with seconds left as a defensive sub and there was nary a mention in the post game about an sort of injury scare. That's right -- Parsons rode the bench because of his play, not his health.
Honestly, in a vacuum, that's fine. Parsons was playing poorly during the second and third quarters and despite his blistering pace offensively the last 10 games, his defense has been somewhere between average and subpar.
Parsons has been a net negative for the Mavs during his shooting and scoring barrage, with the team posting a net rating per 100 possessions of -2.3 when Parsons is on the floor in their last 10, according to NBA.com's stats page. It's the worst net rating of any of the regular rotation players during that span. While there are other contributing factors, such as Parsons being used more as a small-ball four with bench lineups, just looking at Parsons on the floor his defense hasn't been great.
That shouldn't be too much of a surprise as Carlisle has called Parsons out for his poor plus/minus numbers over the last few weeks. So technically, Carlisle does have a point.
But this is so much bigger than trying to win a random game in January.
Parsons signed with the Mavericks to establish himself as a big time contributor -- someone who can help carry a franchise. He broke out as a plus role player with the Rockets and now he wants to be THE guy and not just A guy. There's a difference and it's reflected in the Mavericks desire to wrangle him away from Houston and the $46 million they signed him for.
He has the skill set for it. Parsons may not have the smoothest of mechanics but he's shown over the last two years that he has special skills for his size. He's a deadly pick and roll player, a great transition scorer and capable of getting buckets in mismatches in the post. It's not like Parsons being groomed to take over a bigger role with the Mavs is old news; it's what he signed up for.
When Parsons originally sat crunch time a month or so ago, it was understandable as Parsons recovered from his surgery. He wasn't right, he wasn't going well and he needed more time for solid minutes. That time appears to be now.
In his last 10 games, Parsons has averaged a little over 20 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on Steph Curry-like percentages (52.1 percent from the field, 51.8 percent from three). One bad stretch during a game and Parsons was sent to the bench. Never mind that Dirk Nowitzki and Wes Matthews, who have struggled mightily in the last four weeks, never have their crunch time minutes in doubt.
Of course, Dirk is Dirk. I'm not comparing Parsons to one of the greatest of all time. But Parsons is an invaluable piece to not only the Mavericks present, but their future. Those pieces usually don't sit out clutch moments when they're in a good stretch of games.
Parsons can opt-out this summer. If things don't change, what makes him really want to commit to Dallas again? Why sign up for Carlisle's mind games? Parsons is the closest thing the franchise has to a post-Dirk plan. We've seen Parsons take over games, run the offense and be a dominant player. We've seen it the last few weeks. Is now the time to be teaching the 27-year-old lessons? After all, how many more lessons does he need?
Parsons has never shown the type of discontent for his team or teammates that Monta Ellis showed at times, yet Ellis was free to bail Dallas out of close games because that's what he was brought here to do, warts on defense and all. Could Parsons' defense be better these last two weeks? Of course. Do I know better than Rick Carlisle? Hell no. But these weird battles that Carlisle picks is getting old. Remember Samuel Dalembert getting benched while DeMarcus Cousins rampaged the Mavericks a little more than two years ago? Or publicly calling Darren Collison a backup as he started Mike James? Parsons is in another class compared to those two players, but the underlying theme is the same -- Carlisle tries to send messages with rosters that can't afford those messages to be sent.
I honestly don't blame him that much. The NBA and pro-sports is a what-have-you-done-lately-type business and Carlisle has continually pulled rabbits out of hats as the Mavericks blow up and gut the roster year after year.
But this doesn't help. It festers a weird tension between coach and front office -- the Rondo trade, Parsons, the Collison trade, hell, even the Anthony Morrow trade. Just instances where it doesn't seem like the coach and the front office want the same exact thing.
The worst part is, if Parsons leaves, it's likely another roster blow up. When the Mavericks beat Minnesota in overtime, I remarked that for the first time all year, I could finally see a path to Mavs success in a Dirk-less future. That path involved building around a dynamic and well-fitting wing duo in Parsons and Matthews.
There's also a great chance this column is all for nothing. In two months time, this could be seen as a blip on the radar as Parsons keeps improving, the Mavericks grab some wins on a softer schedule and have a feel-good moment challenging a team in the playoffs. It's not like Parsons and Carlisle suddenly hate each other -- they were joking about their ping pong battles the day before.
Unfortunately, there's some history here. We've seen this before. The Mavericks have to decide if Parsons is their future. I think he is. Does Carlisle? Who knows.