MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Beale Street had never hosted this kind of celebration before. That’s because the Memphis Grizzlies never had a high-priced free agent say yes. Chandler Parsons ended that drought for the Grizzlies, agreeing to come to Memphis on a four-year maximum deal worth more than $94 million.
The franchise wanted its fans to share in the joy of Parsons’ arrival, so they turned his introductory news conference into a festival, lining up food trucks outside FedEx Forum and inviting the public into the plaza to welcome Parsons.
“This is the guy we’ve been seeking for a number of years,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said as Parsons sat by his side and smiled, sporting a skinny-fitting plum suit and dark blue loafers with no socks. “He fits the description for that perimeter star to a T that we’ve been searching so aggressively for for so many years.”
Why did Parsons choose Memphis? What will be different from his injury-marred, disappointing, two-season stint with the Dallas Mavericks? How will the part-time model fit with the Grizzlies’ gritty culture? During a conversation with ESPN.com, Parsons talked about his official introduction to Memphis — while chowing down a burger and fries.
ESPN: Should it be ‘Grit, Grind ‘n Glamour’ now that you’re with the Grizzlies?
Parsons: No, I don’t think so. Grit ‘n Grind is something that this core group of guys with Marc [Gasol], Mike [Conley], Z-Bo [Zach Randolph] and Tony [Allen] have established here. It’s something special. It’s in their DNA, and it’s in their culture and in this community. Maybe not by looking at me — I kind of have the pretty-boy tag — but that’s not me. I compete, I play hard, I’m tough. That’s kind of how I got my niche in the league, doing all the dirty things. Playing under Kevin McHale, I was taught from my rookie year to take charges, dive on the floor.
As my career has progressed, I’ve changed a little bit, but that’s who I am as well. I think you add a guy like me who’s hungry and willing to take the big shot and really be the versatile forward that this team’s been missing. I think my game really complements their game and vice versa. Grit ‘n Grind or not, I think we’re going to mesh very, very well together, and I think those guys are a perfect group of players to play with me.
ESPN: They’ve established a very tough, physical identity. What do you think you can bring to Memphis that the Grizzlies haven’t had?
Parsons: I think I can just bring that forward who can … make big plays and score and, like I said, can take the big shot and play off those other four guys. I’m very unselfish. I’m very versatile. I think I can make those guys better, as well as they can make me better. I can stretch the floor and shoot when we go big with the two big guys inside, and I can get out and run and play the 4 when we go small. I think I just help them with more of a versatile look.
ESPN: You had max offers and meetings with the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies in the first 24 hours of free agency. You committed to Memphis on the spot after that meeting. Why Memphis over Portland?
Parsons: It was a very, very tough decision. I have nothing but respect for Portland and what they’re doing, and I think they have a tremendous future. This really just came down to a gut feeling of mine. I felt extremely comfortable with the management and coach [David] Fizdale. We hit it off right away. We had a past relationship with him being my coach in the Rookie-Sophomore game, and I actually randomly saw him in Orlando with my parents and stopped and talked to him for like 30 minutes when he was still with Miami.
Just looking at his body of work with what he’s done with wings in the league and his vision for me, it just felt right. It basically came down to me being comfortable and trusting the coaching staff. They made unbelievable points about how my usage rate has been down my entire career. The way he’s going to use me in this offense, I think I can really flourish and be the best player I can be.
ESPN: You felt the same way going to Dallas, and that role never really materialized like you envisioned. Why do you think it didn’t happen in Dallas and why will it be different in Memphis?
Parsons: I was only there two years. The first year was about getting my feet wet. We had good scorers with Monta [Ellis] and Dirk [Nowitzki] doing their thing, and I kind of just tried to fill a role and do anything I can. Obviously, I was sidelined with unfortunate injuries, which was completely out of my control. But I never really had the opportunity, the keys to the offense. I loved playing for coach [Rick] Carlisle. He was very, very good for me, and we have a special relationship that will continue even though I’m not playing there, and learning from a guy like Dirk was great.
“I kind of have the pretty-boy tag — but that’s not me. I compete, I play hard, I’m tough.”
But this just seems like a new, fresh start for me. I have a young head coach that is a huge fan of my game and is just simply looking at numbers and seeing that my usage rate hasn’t been up. If you look at guys whose [production] compares to mine, comparing usage rate numbers, mine’s extremely low. I think [Fizdale] is going to obviously bump that up, and with the personnel that’s on the roster right now for Memphis, it’s a perfect fit. We’ll be able to play off each other very well. Coach Fizdale’s system, the way he coached guys like LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade and Joe Johnson in Atlanta, that’s how I want to be coached. That’s how he sees me.
ESPN: Are you disappointed that the Mavericks — and especially Mark Cuban, considering your relationship — didn’t really make much of an effort to keep you?
Parsons: It was more shocking. It is a business and I understand that aspect of it. I think the fans of Dallas were great, but they don’t really understand the whole story of everything. If they did, they wouldn’t have negative feelings towards me. Everything I did in Dallas was for the team and for the organization and for the city. Whether that’s recruiting DeAndre Jordan, putting my absolute heart into that, although it didn’t work, that was to make our franchise better and to help us win games. Getting hurt two times, that’s just bad luck. It’s kind of sickening when you see fans write something about your injuries or my knees, like that’s in my control.
I obviously wish things went a little bit differently in Dallas and that I was healthy and able to play in the playoffs, but like I said, everything I’ve done for them, whether it was coming off the bench or getting hurt or recruiting, that was all for [the fans]. I have no bad feelings toward them. I obviously thought I was going to be in Dallas a lot longer than I was, but it’s a business and Mark has to make decisions. He makes mostly all of them, so this was on him.
ESPN: People look at you and see you as a Hollywood kind of guy, a guy who enjoys the nightlife and being around celebrities and that sort of thing. What made Memphis a fit?
Parsons: This is a perfect example of how people can be misunderstood and misjudged. This decision was clearly based on basketball and fit and me being comfortable. I think it’s kind of strange when players get knocked for having off-the-court marketing deals. I enjoy that kind of stuff, but at the same time, I understand that I don’t have any of that without basketball. Me making this decision to come to Memphis should show everybody that basketball is obviously my No. 1 priority. I think we have something special here and we’re going to win here. All the other stuff comes after that. Hollywood or pretty boy, whatever, I just made a decision to come to the grit ‘n grind city of Memphis for a reason. That’s to play basketball and win.
ESPN: You had a lot of conversations with Mike Conley during the free-agency process. You were in the position to be recruited instead of doing the recruiting. What did he tell you that might have helped sell you on Memphis?
Parsons: First of all, that he was coming back to Memphis, that that was a done deal. That was a big point for me. I wanted him here, for me to know before going into the meeting [with the Grizzlies]. He was just honest. He told me about the city, told me about the culture, told me about how unbelievable the fans are here. It’s just a match. He’s one of those guys that’s just such an unselfish, hard-nosed, tough player that I’ve always respected my whole career. I’m just glad I’ve got a chance now to have him as the leader of this team.
ESPN: Grizzlies fans are excited because you’re the biggest free agent who has picked Memphis. They’ve got the hashtag #Chose901. Can you get other guys next summer and in the years down the road to join you here?
Parsons: This season is going to tell a lot. Obviously, we have to compete and we have to win. It’s got to be a good situation for free agents to come here. Just because I have a reputation for being a recruiter doesn’t mean that guys are automatically going to come here, but if we win at a high level, then I think it puts Memphis in that destination spot. Although guys might like the bright lights and big cities, you’re in the NBA to play basketball and compete for championships. I think we have a really, really good core here. We have an unbelievable coaching staff. Now we just have to put it all together.
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