DALLAS -- For the last few years, Chandler Parsons ranked among the Houston Rockets’ fan favorites. He’ll return to the Toyota Center on Saturday night as a rival, perhaps even a villain.
The Rockets are likely to welcome Parsons with a tribute video on the big screens at some point during the game, as they did for guard Jeremy Lin when he visited with the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week. But the audio might be drowned out by fans who are disgruntled that Parsons departed for Dallas, of all places. Those hard feelings are fueled by the bitter public exchanges Parsons had via the media this summer with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and star shooting guard James Harden.
“I think the women will cheer and the guys will boo,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said, half-kidding about the full-time small forward, part-time jeans model’s popularity with the ladies.
“I don’t know, I have a feeling a couple of girls will boo,” Parsons said with a smile that probably doesn’t seem as charming to the Rockets’ female fans as it did the past few years.
You can bank on Parsons hearing how overpaid he is a few hundred times. The three-year, $46 million contract he signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a restricted free agent, deemed by Morey to be too rich for the Rockets to match, is part of Parsons’ identity at this point.
But there is one sure way Parsons can shut up any bitter Rockets fans: Ball like he did during Friday night’s 140-106 rout of the Lakers, when he was worth every penny and then some.
Parsons scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting against the Lakers before joining the rest of the Mavs’ starters on the bench for the fourth quarter. He scored several of his buckets after making smart cuts to the basket, looking as comfortable in the Mavs’ offense as he has all season.
However, Parsons’ most impressive work came on the other end of the floor. He was the primary defender on 32,000-point scorer Kobe Bryant, who struggled to get 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting.
“When you play a team that’s so dominant by one player, I want to take the challenge,” Parsons said. “I wanted to guard him and I wanted to do whatever it took for our team to win. You stop him, you stop them. I just wanted to make it difficult for him. He’s one of the best scorers to ever play the game, so I just tried to use my size and stayed down on his fakes and make him shoot over a taller defender.”
So does Parsons want the challenge of covering his old buddy Harden?
“Yep,” Parsons said. “For sure.”
Parsons tried to downplay the matchup with the Rockets as “just one game out of 82,” but this is no doubt different. He admitted his return to Houston would be an emotional experience for him. His parents -- “My party buddies!” Cuban greeted them, referring to the night Parsons signed his offer sheet at an Orlando club -- are visiting and will make the trip.
“These things are never easy,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “They always are emotional. He just needs to approach the game the same way he did tonight and it’ll be good.
“He was so locked into everything from the most minute defensive coverage detail, and he was moving the ball great and moving great. When you’re doing that, you just react and play. That’s what he’s got to do and that’s what we’ve all got to do tomorrow.”
Parsons won’t win any popularity contests in Houston, but he can help the Mavs win a game.