The Mavericks don't plan on offering Chandler Parsons a max contract this summer, 105.3 The Fan's Jeff Wade said on Thursday. That fits with rumors I've heard about the Mavericks' front office plans, and with their general free agency strategy over the past few seasons.
Dallas wants to pursue multiple top-tier free agents, starting with Mike Conley but possibly including Hassan Whiteside or other names beyond that. To do so, they need Chandler Parsons to be willing to take less money, or for him to leave entirely. What's interesting is that Parsons' cap hold falls just under $20 million. Because of the way the cap math works, it makes sense that Dallas would want him to sign under $20 million so they can actually get a discount.
However, Parsons commands a max salary whether you like it or not. The dangers of his knee injuries are overreported -- he had one major operation and one poorly timed minor one. He's a 27-year-old hitting his prime with a skillset shared by only five or six other players in the NBA. The Mavericks love Justin Anderson and have committed long-term money to Wesley Matthews, two players who currently lack in terms of playmaking. If Anderson is moving into a more important role on the Mavericks next season, Dallas needs a playmaking small ball four who can help on secondary action when those two defense-first wings can't.
Given that, gambling on Parsons returning or not is just that, a gamble. Parsons likes Dallas, likes Dirk and likes Mark Cuban, so there's some reason to believe he'd be willing to take a slight discount. The question becomes how much the Mavericks are going to lowball him. Parsons clearly has an ego, and he views himself as a max player, so there's a number that will be low for him to even consider, and it's probably not far below max status. Parsons will be receiving max contract offers from other teams, and if it's someone like Golden State, you'd bet he'll strongly consider that. If it's only teams like Orlando offering him top money, perhaps a Dallas offer that shaves off a couple million would be more appealing.
There are a couple viable replacements for Parsons on the market in Nicolas Batum and Harrison Barnes, but the first is likely to return (because Charlotte will offer Batum a max contract, even if it doesn't age well) and the second isn't nearly as good as Parsons. But if it comes to it, both are ball handling, playmaking power forwards who would still fit the Mavericks' system well.
But there's no reason for it to come to that. The Mavericks toying with Parsons and risking him leaving only to spite them if they embarrass him with an offer is simply bad business. I'm not saying that will happen, and surely Dallas doesn't think it will. But it's much easier to bring back free agents than to corral new ones. For that exact reason, the Mavericks must know that Conley isn't exactly the most likely signing, even if there's a chance. Lowballing Parsons to keep a ridiculous dream of Conley and Whiteside alive is exactly the mess that tanked the team in 2012 and 2013, and ended up keeping Nowitzki from advancing past the first round since winning in 2011.
Free agency is still more than a week away. I'm not panicking, nor should you. The Mavericks should plan as optimistically as they can for free agency in the early goings, and adjust their plan as realism sets in. It's early enough that there's no guarantee that won't happen. But it's still worrisome, because their track return says they'll keep holding onto those dream plans for far too long.