For fifth straight year, Mavs fail in free agency

The biggest prize the Dallas Mavericks have landed during their five years as aggressive bidders in free agency played one playoff game for the franchise.

Then the Mavs decided that Chandler Parsons wasn't worth the money, saving it to spend on ... um, well, somebody?

It won't be center Hassan Whiteside, who was at least polite enough to make a quick decision to turn down Dallas' max offer to return to the Miami Heat for a few more million dollars. It certainly won't be point guard Mike Conley, who was meeting with the Mavs when Parsons made his commitment to sign a max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, who now have an agreement to keep Conley.

While the Mavs were making Whiteside and Conley their top priorities, the franchise put Parsons on don't-call-us, we'll-call-you status. And Parsons, who served as the Mavs' unofficial recruiting coordinator last summer, was engaging in multiple conversations with Conley about how great it would be to play together with the Grizzlies.

And the free-agency board is thinning out by the hour, with Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum among the potential Parsons replacements who have already agreed to deals. All the Mavs have to do now is fill three starting spots as names fly off the board of a shallow free-agency class.

Whiteside joins DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and the All-Star version of Deron Williams as big fish who met with the Mavs but declined to sign on the dotted line. Adding Conley to the list seems to be a mere formality. Dallas never even got official meetings with the two superstars owner Mark Cuban wanted most: LeBron James and Chris Paul.

What do the Mavs have to show for five years of trying to hook big fish in free agency after Cuban opted to prioritize cap space over keeping the aging roster of a defending title team together? A grand total of five playoff wins, a few Brinks trucks worth of cap space, one year-old max contract for Wesley Matthews that looks downright reasonable by this summer's standards, and one really frustrated all-time legend.

Poor Dirk Nowitzki, who left a lot of money on the table to give the Mavs flexibility to chase premier free agents.

By no stretch is Nowitzki satisfied with being on the couch by May on an annual basis, but he's so loyal that it would still be considered an absolute stunner if he left the only NBA home he's ever known to chase a championship in the twilight of his career. Never mind that many Mavs fans would actually prefer to see Nowitzki go to Golden State or Oklahoma City, letting Dirk perform on the game's biggest stages again as a historically efficient geezer and letting the Mavs begin a full-fledged rebuilding project.

Being stuck in the NBA middle isn't much fun.

"The worst thing we can do is overpay for mediocrity," a team source told ESPN, acknowledging that the Mavs need to find a way to hop off the mediocrity treadmill Cuban fears so much, one way or the other.

That comment could be perceived as a jab at Parsons, a good guy who ruffled a few feathers in Dallas by considering himself the future face of the franchise after arriving as a post-Melo consolation prize. This certainly wasn't what the Mavs or Parsons planned when he signed that three-year, $46 million offer sheet while partying with Cuban in an Orlando club two summers ago (the last year had a player option).

Nobody is necessarily to blame that Parsons' production the past two years (14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game) fell short of the high standards that came with his hefty paychecks. Two season-ending knee injuries in two seasons is just bad luck.

The first required a hybrid microfracture procedure and a lengthy rehab period that limited Parsons well into last season. Once he recovered, Parsons morphed into the versatile, efficient player he always believed he could be, averaging 18.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the floor and 47.7 percent from 3-point range over a two-month span.

That was enough to convince the Grizzlies -- and Portland Trail Blazers, who met with Parsons as free agency started -- to put a four-year max offer on the table.

Parsons' second surgery on his right knee, a minor procedure to address a meniscus tear in March, was enough to scare Cuban out of making a long-term, high-eight-figure commitment to his buddy.

Cuban tried to convince Parsons to opt in to the final year of his deal, hoping he'd prove his knee could hold up for a whole season and cash in after the cap soars even higher next summer. That was laughable to Parsons and his camp, who were certain a max payday was on its way. The Mavs and Parsons never even talked numbers once he took the split-second necessary to decide to opt out of his deal. And Parsons desperately wanted to stay in Dallas until it was made painfully clear the Mavs didn't much want him.

Cuban didn't doubt that Parsons would get paid, but he couldn't stomach the risk, particularly since the consensus opinion of his advisory committee was that the Mavs should be willing to let Parsons walk.

Instead of resuming his recruiting role, which worked out perfectly last summer until DeAndre Jordan ditched Dallas at the altar after being wined and dined by Parsons for weeks, the 27-year-old expended his energy exploring his options.

Parsons moves on to Memphis, getting the money he wanted while joining a perennial playoff team. The Grizzlies get the injury risk and a sweet-shooting, ballhandling forward who will be a phenomenal fit for their roster if he stays healthy. The Mavs get a fifth straight year of free-agency frustration.