Posted Sep 28 2010 7:32AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Manu Ginobili turned to walk away just as Tony Parker approached the throng of microphones and notepads gathered at Media Day, but offered some advice before leaving.
"Just tell them," Ginobili said, "that you never want to leave Manu and that will be the end of it."
As the Spurs bounce the first few basketballs of training camp, Parker takes the first dribbles down the road toward potential free agency and the end of his time with the only NBA franchise that he has known.
Or does he?
"Of course, of course, I've said plenty of times I want to stay here," Parker said. "But nobody's listening to me. They don't care. They just want to create stories. It sells better."
Of course, of course, the Spurs and Parker have seen this scenario before. Just a year ago at this time, it was Ginobili who was entering the final year of his contract with the blogosphere roiling in discontent between Texas and Argentina.
How would the beloved Manu be able to concentrate on the task at hand and do his job while knowing that the organization for which he had spilled blood and collected bruises and championship trophies was holding the door open by being so coldly calculating?
Or just plain smart.
"At the beginning it was [difficult] -- October, November, December," Ginobili recalled. "When I started getting healthy, feeling good about myself, then I was able to forget about everything else and just play. But when I was rusty and did not play for six months and I wasn't confident, it really played in my head."
By the end of the season, when Ginobili had gotten his surgically repaired body and his game back in full working order, when he averaged 22 points a game after the All-Star break and led the Spurs to 17 wins in their final 24 games, everything worked out.
Ginobili signed a three-year, $39 million contract to remain in San Antonio in April, before the start of the playoffs, and both sides were quite content. Ginobili knew that the Spurs still regarded him as one of the family, but the Spurs also knew they were not simply caving into sentiment for a favorite uncle and had a player who could still be quite productive.
So here comes Round 2 with the Frenchman Parker with all the potential for more international intrigue and incident.
While Parker spent much of the summer in the gym working on his game and also in the kitchen with a chef and a dietician to shed weight and tone up his body -- "no more French pastry" -- there was also time for thorny comments and remarks to pop up on both sides of the Atlantic.
In June, he told the French newspaper L'Equipe: "It would be ... maybe a good challenge for me to go elsewhere. If I leave, I can make another career -- eight, nine years in a different club."
Then there was Amar'e Stoudemire telling the New York media that Parker was "ready to join me" with the Knicks, not to mention the report that had wife Eva Longoria claiming Parker would like to play in New York.
"I can't control you or anybody else in the media," Parker said. "I can't control what they say and it's gonna go crazy inventing stuff that my wife said that she didn't say."
What he can control is his return from the most difficult season of his nine-year NBA career, when he missed 56 games with two ankle sprains, a hip flexor, food poisoning and a broken hand. That it came just a year after his best season -- 22 points and 6.9 assists per game and 50.8 percent shooting -- made it more crippling to the Spurs and gives him something to prove now.
"Definitely, a little bit," Parker said. "It's the most games I missed...in the NBA. That's the part of our business. It's always like that. You miss five games and they forget. They think you retired. It was the same thing with Manu."
It was the exactly the same with Ginobili as the Spurs wanted to be sure they could still get what they would be paying for by watching him play his way back into the game-changer and clutch performer. It's what the smartest management teams -- and Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford are that -- always do. There is no way of avoiding all mistakes, but you do everything within reason to minimize them.
So if Parker struggles or the team once more struggles through the first half of the season, the options will be on the table. With George Hill entering his third season, getting stronger and more comfortable playing the point, the Spurs could trade the veteran who has been part of three championship runs and get another nice piece to fit into the puzzle.
Parker and Popovich had a private conversation that has left them both satisfied entering camp.
"I understand the business," Parker said. "I own my team in France. So I know how it works. That's why I say with Pop it was a great conversation. I saw what they did with Manu. I have no problem with that and I'll be ready to go. At the end of the day I want to win. It's been a long time since we win -- 2007. Contracts, money, whatever is gonna come. For me, I just want to make sure we have a great season this year."
Parker recently said he thought this was the Spurs' last chance to win a championship with the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Ginobili and him and it was interpreted as another sign that he might want out.
"I know people think I'm saying that because of my contract," he said with a grin. "But I really feel that is because of Timmy. It's tough. The NBA is a long season and Timmy's like 34, going to be 35. That's why I feel like it's our last chance to really win a championship, because when Timmy is gone it's gonna be really a test. Timmy's looking great, looking fresher."
Tony's looking fit, looking challenged and looking to show a future employer in San Antonio or elsewhere what he still can do.
And that means the Spurs are looking like they know exactly what they're doing again.
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