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Southwest Division Player to Watch: Chandler Parsons

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The Grizzlies’ big offseason acquisition offer something they have never had - if he stays healthy.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are expecting a lot out Chandler Parsons. Of course this is to be expected - he did sign a four-year, $94 million deal this offseason - and the Grizzlies probably need him to play up to that deal if they are live up to their potential this season.

Parsons, along with new coach David Fizdale, represents a change for Memphis. For years, Memphis has been the league’s grit and grind leader; no team in the league over the past five years has defied the league’s ‘pace and space’ initiative quite like the Grizzlies. Their core - Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph - was built for a style that was the opposite of the style most teams are trying to play in 2016.

But that’s not the type of player - or character - Parsons is. At 6’10”, he can play two positions, handle the ball, make threes at a fairly good clip and open up parts of the floor that Memphis hasn’t been able to over the past couple of years. Where Parsons the prototype of the wing who can fill in at two spots, the Grizzlies have never had this type of player on their roster. Unless you count idea of Jeff Green as a real player, which you shouldn’t.

At the same time, he’s literally changing the locker room culture. Whereas Allen and Z-Bo mostly listen to rappers Future and Gucci Mane, Parsons has instituted ‘White Boy Wednesdays’ where he plays Adele, Chainsmokers and Avici in the weight room:

On the court, Fizdale has plans for Parsons that indicate that change is coming for Memphis. Fizdale, a former Miami Heat assistant coach who was there when LeBron James was, went as far to say Parsons and James have the same general skill set. From SLAM:

“When I said I want to play him like LeBron, I do,” Fizdale said. “I really do want to use him, because there’s not many guys in the League at that size that have that skill set, and there’s no reason why I should put a cap on his abilities because his name isn’t LeBron James. I just see the same skill set.

“He’s not a high flyer like LeBron obviously, but he can pass it, he can shoot the 3, he’s huge, he can post guys and he moves great without the basketball, so I can move him around in a lot of different spots. I do not want to put a ceiling on him. I want to see how far we can go with him and put him in a role that is positionless. … I think all it takes is a coach showing that he has the confidence in a guy to do it and develop him according to the system and then it can take place.”

On paper, this is great and on paper, the Grizzlies could be really good this year. Maybe they won’t be as good as the Warriors out West, but with a healthy Gasol, Parons, Conley, Fizdale’s new schemes and an adjusted role for Randolph, there’s reason for optimism. Finishing second or third in the West wouldn’t be the most shocking outcome for Memphis.

But Parsons, like Gasol and Conley of late, doesn’t have the best health record. Parsons hasn’t played in over 70 games since his 2014-15 season in Memphis and played in just 61 games last season after offseason knee injury and then a meniscus tear that ended his season as the Mavericks lost in the playoffs. The tea lea leaves for Parsons’ future health don’t exactly seem to indicate he’ll suddenly become a consistently healthy player.

Flashed forward seven months - and past his new deal - and it’s unclear as to when Parsons is going to make his official Memphis debut. To date, he hasn’t played in the preseason and it’s not really clear if he’ll be ready for their opener on Oct. 26 against the Timberwolves. Even for the most optimistic person in the world, it’s really hard to gauge exactly what Parsons is going to be this year.

This is what makes Parsons so fascinating and why he might be the Grizzlies most important player this side of Gasol. If he can play and be the best version of himself in as he turns 28, he changes Memphis’ outlook. If healthy, he can attack in the pick and roll - thus taking pressure of Conley - and unlock different schemes that weren’t possible before his arrival.

But if he’s not healthy and isn’t on the court enough to even have a chance at changing the Grizzlies’ season, Parsons becomes nothing more than a failed, expensive attempt at change. For him, on a new, huge contract and in the prime of his career, there is no going back.