Should Mavs be worried about losing Chandler Parsons?

Since the All-Star break, Chandler Parsons is having one of the best stretches of his career. Could Dallas lose him this summer? Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

DALLAS -- On his first day of kindergarten, Chandler Parsons scribbled a picture of himself in an Orlando Magic uniform to illustrate what he wanted to be when he grew up.

That childhood dream could become a reality this summer, which would be a nightmare for the Dallas Mavericks.

Don't assume Parsons will automatically re-sign with the Mavs this summer after he opts out of the final season of his three-year, $46 million contract -- which is a virtual certainty with the salary cap soaring -- despite owner Mark Cuban's making it clear he is committed to keeping Parsons as a foundation piece.

The Mavs fully understand that the 27-year-old forward, who is in the midst of the best statistical stretch of his career, will need to be re-recruited this offseason.

Those close to the situation consider his hometown Magic to be the biggest threat to steal Parsons from the Mavs. With its pre-deadline dealing, Orlando cleared enough cap space to sign two players to max contracts. Sources anticipate that the Magic will aggressively pursue Parsons.

It's not a subject Parsons wants to discuss as the Mavs prepare for Tuesday's home game against the Magic and the stretch run of the regular season, though he certainly didn't slam the door on the possibility.

"My focus right now is solely on finishing this season as strong as possible with the Mavericks," Parsons said. "It'd be selfish of me and a disservice to this franchise and to my teammates to be thinking about this summer when we have a chance to do something special. We'll have plenty of time to think about business this summer. It's basketball season now."

Parsons tersely cut off an attempt to press him on the issue: "You have a calendar? This isn't July. Call me then, if you want to talk about free agency."

Parsons' phone will probably be ringing a lot at that time. He will be one of the league's most coveted unrestricted free agents in a market in which 20 teams are projected to have enough cap room to make max offers.

This free-agency crop should feature two of the biggest names in basketball -- LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- but it's not a deep class. That's particularly true of playmaking combo forwards, a pretty rare species the 6-foot-9 Parsons has joined this season by proving he can thrive as a power forward.

The list of teams interested in Parsons will be long, with sources expecting the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Magic to be among Parsons' suitors. If Durant leaves Oklahoma City, add the Thunder to the list, with a potential reunion with Parsons' coach at Florida, Billy Donovan.

It's a perfect scenario for Parsons to get paid, and he is expected to command a max contract. Dallas, which won't have Parsons' full Bird rights required to offer a fifth year, would be able to pay him roughly $96 million over four years. Other teams would be able to offer approximately $92 million over the same span.

Parsons' decision will come down to comfort and the best opportunity to reach his potential -- not dollars -- according to sources familiar with his thinking.

The Orlando situation is expected to be especially intriguing to Parsons, and not only because of the nearby Lake Howell High School alumnus' ties to the area, where his parents and many other family members live.

The Magic, whose oldest starter is 25-year-old center Nikola Vucevic, have a talented, young core consisting largely of developing, recent lottery picks and a glaring need for an experienced, go-to guy. Orlando could allow Parsons, who prides himself on his recruiting ability, to have significant input on the team's other primary target. (Perhaps fellow Gator Al Horford?)

The Mavs should still be considered the favorites in the pending Parsons sweepstakes, as he feels a strong sense of loyalty to Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki, in particular. Parsons also has a close relationship with Rick Carlisle and lobbied for Dallas' head coach to receive the five-year contract extension he signed this fall.

Parsons wore Nowitzki's jersey as a kid hooping in Orlando parks and got his first big contract from the Mavs because the big German was willing to take way below market value. Now Nowitzki is the legend whose technical advice during private shooting sessions helped Parsons morph into one of the NBA's premier 3-point marksman the last two months. And Dirk is probably the dude who makes Parsons laugh the most.

Cuban and Parsons share the kind of owner-player bromance that only Cuban can have. Cuban has essentially made Parsons a high-ranking member of the Mavs' front office. They formed the Dallas recruiting committee last summer, traveling back and forth to Los Angeles together, mixing business with pleasure.

Parsons has embraced the role on having input on franchise decisions and frequently talked about wanting to continue it, which would require him to commit to the Mavs early in the free agency process.

However, Parsons and his inner circle have expressed concerns about whether Carlisle has confidence that Parsons can be a franchise player and is willing to give him the freedoms and responsibilities players of that ilk typically receive. Those doubts are fueled in part by occasional crunch-time benchings this season, even after Parsons, who averaged 18.8 points on 52.3 percent shooting from the floor in February, returned to form following a difficult rehab from major knee surgery.

"I have the utmost confidence and respect for him," Parsons told ESPN.com the day after being benched in crunch time of a Feb. 3 loss to the Heat. "I just hope it's reciprocated and he feels the same way towards my game and how I can help this team win games. We have to somehow find a way to get on the same page if we're both going to be here for a long time and he's the coach and I'm a foundation piece.

"If I'm going to be a foundation piece and a centerpiece, we need to figure out how we can be on the same page and have the same belief and respect for one another. I just would hope my coach would have the same confidence and respect in my abilities that I do."

Carlisle has bristled at suggestions that he doesn't believe Parsons has franchise-player potential. Carlisle has noted that he made managing expectations for Parsons a priority to protect a player coming off a serious operation.

Parsons' scoring average and shot attempts have increased each month this season as his health has improved. Since January, Carlisle has used Parsons as a small-ball power forward when Dirk Nowitzki rests -- evidence that Carlisle is seeking ways to expand Parsons' role.

Carlisle, who has invested an extraordinary amount of time and effort into working individually with Parsons, leaves no doubt that he hopes to coach him for years to come.

"I love Parsons," Carlisle told ESPN.com via text message this week. "One of my all-time favorites to work with. A franchise-caliber player in the making."

The question for the summer: For which franchise?