MikeCheck: Fizdale defends Parsons, maintains patience amid struggles

MEMPHIS – Relaying some of his strongest comments this season in support of Chandler Parsons, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale insisted Thursday the struggling forward remains a vital part of the team’s push toward the playoffs.

“All I know is I see a guy in here really trying to help us,” Fizdale said after Thursday’s practice at FedExForum. “And you better believe it – when he gets going, it’s going to be a huge lift to us. And I guarantee you a lot of people will be happy with him once that body starts moving.”

No one is more eager for that breakthrough to come than Parsons, whose first season in Memphis has been overshadowed by a methodical and frustrating recovery from issues with both knees that have tarnished his impact in games. In the midst of Parsons’ struggles on the court have been occasional controversies in his dating life that have played out on popular social media platforms.

In a sense, Parsons has had more highlight moments on celebrity gossip sites than he’s delivered on the basketball court this season. Those issues, combined with a four-year, $94 million contract he signed last July as the biggest incoming free agent in franchise history, have made the versatile 6-10 forward a polarizing figure in large segments of the Grizzlies’ fan base.

Parsons, 28, is having the least productive season of his six-year career, averaging just 6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 34.2 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from three-point range. He’s played in 30 games and has averaged 19.5 minutes a night in his first full season back from a second knee surgery he underwent last March while with the Dallas Mavericks.

Parsons has voiced his disappointment with his performance throughout the season as he’s battled to regain his rhythm while also coping with a program designed to manage his minutes and incrementally build his workload. He’s remained the Grizzlies’ regular starting small forward, although he has been limited to about 25 minutes and rarely plays in the fourth quarter.

Fizdale has defended Parsons’ role in the rotation throughout the season, and did so again on Thursday when asked how he felt about some fans booing Parsons in the first half of Tuesday’s 130-112 win against Phoenix. Parsons, who scored in double figures just once in February, missed three of four shots and finished with four points, four fouls and two turnovers in 23 minutes against the Suns.

“I told you guys, my lens is different than everyone else’s,” Fizdale said before the team departed for Friday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. “I’d like to see some of these people come off some of the injuries he’s had and try to come out and play in an NBA game, and do it well. It’s difficult. So, I’m going to keep showing extreme confidence in him. I understand that it’s a real slow process. I’m happy that I have him for the minutes that I have him. We’re just going to keep working towards his rhythm.”

Earlier this week, Fizdale had hinted he was considering possible changes to the rotation in search of effective combinations to complement Memphis’ marquee players. While Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have found a collective rhythm – they combined for 74 points in Sunday’s win in Denver and then 80 points Tuesday against Phoenix – they’ve gotten little consistent help from role players.

Parsons was ultimately signed to supplement the Grizzlies’ primary offensive threats as a reliable fourth option. But with 21 games remaining in the regular season, the hope is he’s not a work in regress despite carrying a plus-minus ratio of minus-7 in Memphis’ three games since the All-Star break. The Grizzlies (36-25) were one of four teams separated by 1 ½ games entering Thursday night for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, which guarantees home-court average in the first round.

Fizdale continues to preach patience with the Parsons’ process.

“Maybe it will help (critics/fans) to know that nobody on our team works harder than him,” Fizdale said of Parsons. “He’s in here every day, all night, either getting treatment, lifting, shooting. My coaches with families are staying in here late at night with him, because he carries that weight heavier than anybody.”

Therein lies the other issue with Parsons, who has been harder on himself than anyone. Teammates have constantly been in his ear to lift his confidence and support him throughout the season. Grizzlies assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who coached Parsons in Houston two years ago, is also frequently with Parsons to boost both his spirits and his conditioning.

“He feels like he’s letting his team down, he feels like he’s letting this city down, and he doesn’t want that,” Fizdale said of Parsons. “I know people get on him about the social media stuff. That’s today’s athlete. I don’t know why people get all riled up.”

Fizdale also hopes skeptics cut Parsons a break on social media, where he routinely engages followers with random Q&A sessions and is the source of backlash for sharing insight into his private life.

“They use it against him when they’re not playing well,” Fizdale said of Parsons’ critics. “‘Well, you shouldn’t be on there when you’re not playing well.’ When you’re playing well, you can get on there and tweet and everything else? So, I don’t get caught up in everything else.”

Grind City’s NBA Power Index

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. You don’t lose an All-NBA performer and MVP candidate yet still keep the machine rolling seamlessly – unless you’re the Warriors and won 73 games last year without Kevin Durant. Last Week: 1

  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. San Antonio had a successful 6-2 rodeo trip, then returned home and got a game-winning basket from catalyst Kawhi Leonard to beat Indiana and push its win streak to five straight games. LW: 2

  5. Houston Rockets
  6. The more you see of the Rockets and the job Mike D’Antoni is doing with them on the fly, the more you realize how potent and dangerous they are as a blossoming, true title contender. LW: 6

  7. Cleveland Cavaliers
  8. LeBron and Co. came up short against Boston in another thriller against an East contender gunning to dethrone the conference kings. But Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut soon settle in. LW: 3

  9. Boston Celtics
  10. Al Horford has caught plenty of heat in Beantown for failing to live up to expectations after landing a $113 million deal in free agency, but he delivered the goods in a big win over the Cavs. LW: 4

  11. Washington Wizards
  12. It didn’t take long for Bojan Bogdanovich to find a fit in Washington after being traded from Brooklyn. He scored 27 off the bench to help Washington snap an 8-game skid against Toronto LW: 5

  13. Oklahoma City Thunder
  14. Russell Westbrook was already terrorizing the league before the trade deadline with his relentless play. Now that Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott are at his side, the Thunder will rise. LW: NR

  15. Los Angeles Clippers
  16. The Clippers are now healthy, now that Chris Paul is back in the lineup and dishing assists at an elite rate again. The next step is to find a level of consistency that’s been missing all season. LW 7

  17. Memphis Grizzlies
  18. Two lethargic, lackluster losses to the Pelicans and Pacers were followed by relatively easy victories against the Nuggets and Suns. Memphis has 21 games left to solve its identity crisis? LW: 8

  19. Utah Jazz
  20. George Hill didn’t agree to a long-term extension before the March 1 deadline. So couple that with Gordon Hayward likely entering free agency, and it may be now or never for this group. LW: 9

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