The Dallas Mavericks have some decisions to make this offseason. So does Chandler Parsons. And so does David Lee.
The news on Parsons is sobering: An ESPN report says he'll undergo season-ending surgery on his right knee -- this time "just'' a torn meniscus as opposed to last spring's hybrid-microfracture surgery on the same knee. Eventually, even though Parsons will reportedly be fine by this summer, he and the Mavs will have a $93.8-million-or-so decision to make ... and what might be a three-month rehab doesn't make that decision any easier.
And of course, there is an eventual question to be on another forward in Lee ... though more immediately, especially in the wake of the Parsons news, Lee seems more "answer'' than "question.''
Will Lee's temporary stay in Dallas help the 35-35 Mavs survive the loss of Parsons? Could Lee's start here, and the next 12 games without CP, decide whether this becomes a longer engagement? Lee can't say for sure, but as DallasBasketball.com's Mike Fisher found out exclusively during a one-on-one conversation last Friday before the Golden State game, Lee is enjoying every minute of his time in Dallas so far.
"All I can say is, my experience down here has been unbelievable," Lee said during shootaround at the American Airlines Center. "Who knows what happens in the offseason, what their needs are and what my needs are. But I think they’ve enjoyed having me here and I’ve certainly enjoyed every minute of it down here, and I don’t say that as a politically-correct answer, I say that as the truth."
If enjoyment can be translated through playing time then it's safe to say the feeling is mutual. Lee's first dozen games in Dallas have been impactful, as he's averaged 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 20.3 minutes per game. He's given the Mavs a boost on the glass where they sorely needed it. He's also crafted four double-doubles, including a dominant 16-point, 16-rebounds game against his former Warriors teammates, despite a tweaked groin.
Lee has quickly become the first forward off the bench and in recent games has settled into a role opposite Dirk Nowitzki in the fourth quarter, a development that is siphoning off minutes from center Zaza Pachulia late in games.
If it all seems unexpected then that's because the past two years have been lost ones for Lee.
Last season with Golden State his injury allowed Draymond Green's abrupt rise to the upper echelon of NBA forwards. Lee deferred to the hot hand, earning professionalism points for coming off the bench during the Warriors' title run. As a reward the Warriors traded him to Boston, an emerging team in the East that needed a player with Lee's credentials — a savvy veteran who could play tough minutes inside and live up to his career averages of 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Only problem was Boston's younger forwards grew faster than expected and by January Lee was riding the pine again. Lee and Boston knew something had to change, so while Lee waited for Boston to execute his buyout he ramped up his conditioning and his agent explored his options.
That led him to Dallas, which signed him the last week of February. He said the team sold him on opportunity and playing time. By his second game Lee played 25 minutes and scored 14 points and grabbed 14 points against Denver on Feb. 26.
Lee's minutes are still variable. (Or, rather ... were.) His effort, however, is not, says Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle.
"He's playing well and he's playing effectively," Carlisle said recently. "He's a different dimension than we've had here all year. He's helped us and I felt he was going to do that when we signed him."
Lee says the Mavs have made his transition easier by simplifying his role. He comes off the bench and he works with second-unit guards in J.J. Barea and Devin Harris that excel at pick-and-roll situations, which is where Lee is at his best.
And if you're looking ahead at a role for Lee with the Mavericks next season, could it be that Sixth Man role?
He's already become the first forward off the bench, and it's not a huge leap to see Lee as the Mavs' de facto sixth man right now, a mantle most recently held by Vince Carter and, before him, Jason "Jet" Terry, perhaps one of the gold standards for the NBA's most unique bench position.
Now, these days, the Sixth Man Award is dominated by guards and outside shooters. But Carlisle also believes the mindset is key and, in some ways and trump the current player profile for that role.
"I do believe that to be great at that it's got to be a challenge that you are willing to take on and want to take on," Carlisle said. "Jason Terry set one of the greatest examples in the history of our franchise by taking the reins of that challenge for an extended period of time and was a big reason we won a championship. Vince came to us and said, 'I want to be that guy. I'd love the challenge.'" He was great, close to winning (the award) it a couple of years with us. The mental approach and the enthusiasm in which you attack that job goes a long way, plus you have to have the ability."
It's not a stretch to see a reconfigured Mavs team in 2016-17 with Lee filling that role. He has the mindset, the talent and the understanding that, like many Mavs players, there are fewer basketball years ahead than behind for the 32-year-old.
The Mavs welcomed him with open arms, with Nowitzki leading the way. That, as he told Fisher, may go a long way toward Lee determining where he'll settle down next season.
"This is as much as I’ve enjoyed basketball, along with the championship years at Golden State," Lee said, who will get more minutes for Dallas starting on Wednesday night in Portland and who will then get his NBA Championship ring Friday in Oakland when the Mavs visit Golden State. "To me, at this age, that’s what I’m looking at as much as anything else. I really like the city, (it's) a first-class organization and a great group of guys in the locker room. I can say nothing but positive things.''
So many positives, and yet another negative for Chandler Parsons ... with a David Lee increased role, now and maybe in the future, the best available solution.