HOUSTON -- This was a milestone night for the Memphis Grizzlies, coach David Fizdale declared before Saturday’s game, a smile beaming on his face. Chandler Parsons would finally play both ends of a back-to-back.
“I’m really excited about that for him and for us,” Fizdale said.
It was hard to have much enthusiasm for Parsons’ performance in the 123-108 loss to the Houston Rockets, as he scored two points on 1-of-5 shooting in 20 minutes. But Fizdale, perhaps testing the power of positive thinking, praised Parsons for “getting in the mix a little bit more.”
Sure, Parsons grabbed seven rebounds, and he certainly appreciates the unwavering support of his head coach, but he prefers to be real about the situation as he continues a difficult comeback from a second surgery on his right knee that prompted the Dallas Mavericks to pass on trying to keep him.
“I suck right now,” Parsons said. “There’s no sugarcoating it. It is what it is. I’m just going to continue to work, continue to grind.”
Unfortunately, this kind of meager production hasn’t been unusual for Parsons, the Grizzlies’ high-risk, max-contract addition in free agency. The payoff for their four-year, $94 million deal so far: averages of 6.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 33.5 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent from 3-point range.
Playing both games against his former teams this weekend represents progress, but Parsons’ numbers since the All-Star break certainly do not. He has averaged 3.4 points on 24.1 percent shooting in the past five games.
It’s one thing for Parsons to be booed in Dallas and Houston, as he was the past two nights. Mavs fans are irrationally mad at him for suffering season-ending knee injuries the past two seasons, and Rockets fans might have a right to be annoyed with some ill-advised comments he made at the city of Houston after his departure as a restricted free agent.
But the boos have started in Memphis, too, as patience for Parsons is wearing thin with some segments of the Grizzlies' fan base.
“A little shocking,” Parsons told ESPN of the booing he heard in the Grizzlies’ last home game. “Look, I signed a four-year deal. I didn’t sign a one-year deal. The team expectations for me are to go very slow. It’s going to be a long process.
“I understand as a sports fan you want production. You see the contract I signed with the salary I make. People expect a lot better than I’m performing right now. That’s natural, and that’s how it goes, but I think it’s a little premature [for Memphis fans to boo]. But I get it.”
Parsons understands that, considering his on-court struggles, some folks in Memphis might also be turned off by the flamboyant lifestyle he leads. He has decided to shut down his social media activity for the rest of the season -- which will rob Memphis sports-talk radio of a lot of fodder -- figuring he needs to block out negativity as he focuses on getting healthy and regaining his form.
For the record, Fizdale thinks the reaction to Parsons’ social life is rather silly.
“I get it,” Fizdale said. “I get that the fans see social media and see him in Cancun. You know what? If you looked at every other player’s social media that wasn’t at the All-Star Game, they were probably at a beach, because I was, too. I get them being frustrated with that and the fact that he’s single and has got girls that he dates and all that stuff. If I looked like that and I was single, I’d date a lot of girls, too. So get past all of that.
“This guy comes to work every single day on his game, on his body, twice, sometimes three times a day. He’s a great teammate. He’s really trying his butt off to get his body functioning at a high level. That’s all I care about.”
Parsons, who had to hit reset on his comeback when a bone bruise in his other knee sidelined him for a month early in the season, readily admits that he lacks the explosiveness he used to have. He’s working to regain that while trying to chip off rust during games for a Grizzlies squad that’s fighting for playoff seeding.
There are also mental hurdles Parsons must overcome. He’s more frustrated than any fan. He insists his confidence hasn’t cracked, but he sees a hesitant player who passes up good looks too often when he watches film. And he knows opposing defenses are daring him to shoot.
“It’s almost just weird,” Parsons said. “The way teams are guarding me, they’re going under [screens]. They’re almost disrespecting me in a way. I’ve never been guarded like this before. I just have to go into games with the understanding to shoot the ball when I’m open. Not force or take bad shots, but I work too hard, and I’m too good of a player to be struggling like this for this long.
“Basically, I don’t feel 100 percent. That’s going to come with time. That’s going to be a process, but mentally I have to overcome that.”
All his teammates ask of Parsons at this point is to continue putting in the work. As Mike Conley said, the hope is he’ll eventually get a few shots to go down and it’ll click for the forward whose versatile game Memphis hoped would be the perfect complement to the Grit 'n' Grind mainstays.
The only way Parsons shuts it down for the season is if it’s a medical decision that is out of his hands. As he sees it, there is a quarter of the regular season remaining for him to work on his form and get ready to help the Grizzlies make a playoff run.
Fizdale, meanwhile, pumps up Parsons and preaches patience with his lack of production.
“We’ve gotten to this point without it, so why be impatient and put extra pressure on him?” Fizdale said. “There’s no need for that. All of us in there understand that it’s not easy to come back from what he did right in the middle of the season and jump into the mix and be old Chandler Parsons. That’s not realistic.
“This team, they’ll keep surrounding him and keep pumping him with confidence. At some point, I just really feel like it’s going to kick in, and he’s really going to help us this year.”