It turns out Mark Cuban was on to something.

When the Mavericks, led by their outspoken billionaire owner, chose not to keep Chandler Parsons — who had become extremely close with Cuban during his two years in Dallas — it raised eyebrows.

The forward declined his player option for this season and became an unrestricted free agent. It was no secret that Dallas hesitated to commit to Parsons long term because of chronic knee injuries, including surgeries on his right knee that ended both of his seasons in Dallas.

It turns out the Mavericks’ concerns were well founded. After signing a four-year maximum contract with Memphis worth $94 million guaranteed this past summer, Parsons, 28, has essentially been a non-factor. He played just 34 games this season because of his knees, and the Grizzlies announced Monday he will be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with a partial tear in the left meniscus.

In essence, the Grizzlies have wasted more than $20 million — not chump change for a small-market franchise — for career-low numbers from Parsons. The question now is whether Parsons can give them more production over the final three years of the deal, and what this means for the Grizzlies moving forward.

Memphis, like Dallas, knew there was risk in chasing Parsons last summer. But, unlike the Mavericks — who, despite striking out in free agency the past several years chasing stars, play in a big market with no state income tax, which should make it a desirable location for players — the Grizzlies have no history of luring prominent players to Memphis. The most expensive free agent the Grizzlies had signed before Parsons was, believe it or not, Darko Milicic, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal in 2007.
Parsons was expected to fill a large role for Memphis as a wing player who can shoot, score and create for others. Even during his two injury-plagued seasons in Dallas, Parsons checked those boxes for the Mavericks. That’s why both Memphis and Portland offered him max contracts last summer. 

His numbers this season — 6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 33.8 percent shooting overall, 26.9 percent three-point shooting — and the eye test show that this version of Parsons is not the one Memphis was supposed to get. If Parsons can’t recover and salvage the last three seasons of the deal, things could get ugly in a hurry in Memphis.

Memphis pursued Parsons because — with Mike Conley re-signing — this was a chance to spend big on a prominent free agent before soaring over the salary cap for years to come. So now, with Conley, Parsons and Marc Gasol all locked up for the next three seasons, this is the core of the Grizzlies through 2020.

And, for a variety of reasons, it will be tough for the Grizzlies to add to it. Because of prior trades, Memphis doesn’t have control of its first-round pick in 2017, and it is top-eight protected in 2019. So unless the Grizzlies have a total collapse, they won’t be able to add a potential impact young player in two of the next three drafts.

In addition to Parsons’s injury woes, both Gasol and Conley have missed significant time in recent seasons and are aging out of their primes while on pricey long-term deals. Franchise cornerstones Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, in their mid-30s, are role players at best. It’s hard to know exactly how much longer the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” Grizzlies can go on this way.

“We know he will continue to work tirelessly to return to the court with his teammates and contribute,” Memphis general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement on Monday. After a lost season in Memphis, though, it’s hard not to look at the Parsons deal as one of the worst of last summer. Now the Grizzlies have to hope one lost year doesn’t become four.

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