Chandler Parsons still remembers his dinner date with Thunder general manager Sam Presti prior to the 2011 NBA Draft.
It was a Saturday night in mid-May, on the eve of Oklahoma City's pivotal Game 7 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals.
The two went to Coolgreens, a casual spot in Nichols Hills. Parsons, who then had just wrapped up his collegiate career at Florida, was the only player to get an invitation among a 12-man group in town for a pre-draft workout.
“It was more like, ‘let's just hang out and get to know each other,'” Parsons said.
The Thunder owned the 24th pick in that year's draft, and Parsons was very much in play. Oklahoma City ultimately selected Reggie Jackson. Parsons went 14 picks later, in the middle of the second round, to the Houston Rockets.
“I use that as motivation,” Parsons said, “that every single team in this league passed on me. So I try to make them pay every single game.”
Oklahoma City included.
“They are definitely on that list. They passed on me. They had the 24th pick, right?” Parsons recalled. “I'll never forget that.”
Nearly two years after the Thunder passed on him, Parsons now returns to Oklahoma City seeking the ultimate payback. He'd like nothing more than to help the upstart Rockets upset the top-seeded Thunder. And it just so happens he could be the Rockets X-factor in this opening-round series.
“He does all the intangibles,” said Thunder guard Kevin Martin, a teammate of Parsons last season. “Kind of like a Nick Collison on the wing.”
With the Thunder expected to focus much of its defensive attention on former fan favorite James Harden, Parsons could emerge as the Rockets player who benefits most.
Parsons ranks second on the Rockets in scoring at 15.5 points per game. He also ranks second in rebounds at 5.3 per game and third in assists at 3.5 per game.
On a team that finished second in 3-pointers made this season, Parsons' 152 makes from beyond the arc ranked third for the Rockets.
“He can do it all on the offensive end,” said Kevin Durant. “So I've got my work cut out for me.”
And not just on defense.
Parsons has a history of making Durant work on offense.
According to NBA.com/stats, Durant shot just 37.9 percent with Parsons on the court this season. Against the Rockets while Parsons sat, Durant shot 58.3 percent.
“When you play against a player as good as KD, you just try to make it as difficult as possible for him,” Parsons said. “That's all I try to do.”
With a 6-foot-9, 227-pound frame, Parsons has ideal size and strength to combat Durant. He also is in great condition, possesses nimble feet and plays with extraordinary energy. It's enough to give Parsons confidence he can hang with Durant despite obvious differences in their statures.
“My job is to just try to be physical with him and try to make him uncomfortable,” Parsons said. “I've watched tons of film on him. I know everything that he's going to do. I know where he's going to go on the floor. I'm just trying to beat him to those spots and not let him catch the ball where he wants to catch the ball.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the Thunder must match Parsons' energy.
“He's one of those guys that just never stops moving,” Brooks said. “You always have to know where he is, because if you just plant yourself in the spot where he was last he's not going to be in that spot much longer.”
Brooks remembers watching film of Parsons in college and coming away most impressed with his motor.
“You knew that he was one of those guys that was going to get better because of the energy that he brought to the floor,” Brooks said.
“I don't know the draft that well. I just know once you get drafted that number doesn't mean a thing. You're either going to be able to play in this league or you're not. And if you don't you get shipped away or you don't play. It doesn't matter.”
Evidently, it still matters to Parsons.