Life often doesn’t go according to plan.
I remember back when I was 10-years-old that I was absolutely certain I would make the NBA one day. Never mind the fact that I didn’t make my 6th grade basketball team (after all, Michael Jordan didn’t make the team that one time). Never mind the fact that I was barely five feet tall and slow. I believed all that I had been taught as a child growing up that if I just believed in myself, and more importantly, worked hard that I could do anything I wanted.
But unfortunately, that’s a comforting lie.
Sometimes our hopes are ultimately hopeless and impossible no matter how much faith we have in ourselves. Sometimes we are victims of circumstances beyond our control no matter how hard we work.
And over the last three years, there’s likely no one in the world of professional sports that has come to understand this better than Chandler Parsons.
When the Memphis Grizzlies signed Chandler Parsons to a 4 year/$94 million deal in the wasteful summer of 2016, they envisioned him as the bridge to lead them into the pace-and-space era—a player that would hopefully extend the Mike Conley-Marc Gasol window.
Instead, Parsons is a significant reason for why that window has finally come to a close.
Because of his inevitably immovable contract, the Grizzlies were never able to use more than the mid-level exception to try to improve the team around Conley and Gasol over the last two summers. Of course, this led to the eventual collapse of the team this past year around the last two remaining pillars of the Core Four. They just simply didn’t have the support necessary to continue in playoff contention at their age.
Parsons was supposed to be that support, a complementary star that would keep the Grizzlies relevant even as Conley and Gasol aged. But with only 95 games played over three seasons, we now know that was obviously never a role that his knees were ever going to let him fill.
There really is no one to blame. All accounts indicate that the Grizzlies training staff (which does have an admittedly spotty history) and Parsons himself did everything they possibly could to restore his knees to health. He worked out consistently, visited the world’s best doctors, and even looked into possible experimental procedures—all because he desperately wanted to continue to do what he loves and be everything that the Grizzlies thought they were receiving in the summer of 2016.
It is what it is. No amount of hard work and dedication will ever allow Chandler Parsons to overcome his circumstances and become the player he was once more. Nor should the Grizzlies ever expect him to do that.
However, what he can do now is make the most out of his present situation.
Although the Grizzlies suffered a severe handicap under the deadweight of the Parsons contract, they still managed to evolve through a mixture of luck and smart decision-making. As a result, they now have a brand new core tailor-made for the modern NBA led by Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant that may have championship-level upside.
And now Parsons has an opportunity to evolve with them into a veteran leader for a team that may not have many at the start of next year.
Though he served as an example of a fracturing culture when he left the team for an extended period last year, Parsons now ironically can serve as a leader in building a new organizational culture.
The direction of the Memphis Grizzlies has changed. The new Jackson-Morant-Brandon Clarke core doesn’t need Parsons to be the skilled wing that you could count on for 17-5-5 every single night. After all, it is not the Grizzlies’ goal to contend next year, and there will be a time to seek out players of that caliber once contention does become the goal once again. But they do need him as an established veteran player to help establish a winning culture and give professional guidance—something with which he should have no problem since he’s been a model of professionalism (at least on the floor/in season preparations, if not on social media) in Memphis.
Of course, it’s too much to expect for that veteran guidance to have any meaningful impact from Parsons being on the court. Over the last two summers, there have been many columns and pieces written even from yours truly about how and why he will remain healthy. That simply isn’t in the cards anymore.
To fully understand Parsons’ situation, one has to accept that he will never be “healthy” again. It’s highly likely that his knees have become degenerative at this point. The fact he was playing through obvious pain during the second half of last year even though he hadn’t played since the season’s third game would seem to indicate this.
If Parsons played even 50 games next year, that would be a definite victory.
However, at this point his career, Parsons can make up for what he can no longer do on the court with his veteran leadership behind the scenes. And with the current goals and direction of the Memphis Grizzlies, that will be a highly important role for him to fill.
It goes without saying that the trajectory of Chandler Parsons’ career has not gone according to plan. But if he embraces this new role as a mentor and veteran leader, he can still redeem his time in Memphis—and possibly even extend his NBA career.