It's the end of an era in San Antonio.
After joining the Spurs' starting lineup as a teenager just five games into his rookie season in 2001-02, Tony Parker is their first-string point guard no more.
Parker seems to have taken the news in stride, vowing to take Murray under his wing.
"(Pop) told me he thought it was time, and I was like, 'No problem.' ," he said. "Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. I will support Pop's decision, and I will try to help DJ as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills)."
Age, injuries and mileage have all piled up for Parker in his 17th NBA season, in which he's averaging career-lows in scoring (8.0 ppg), assists (4.0) and minutes (21.7). He suffered a ruptured left quadriceps tendon during Game 2 of the 2017 Western Conference semifinals that ended his playoff run and spent months recovering from the injury. Parker returned to the Spurs' lineup on Nov. 27 and started 21 straight games before last night's move to a reserve role.
Per ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright, Parker admitted to "hitting a wall" recently and said he has about another two months before he will be fully confident in the status of his leg.
"It's getting there. I just have to keep working on it, and just be patient," Parker added. "[Cavaliers guard] Isaiah Thomas, he talked about that. When you first come back you have the adrenaline. I had all the energy, and the first 10 games I was feeling great. Then I hit that wall. Because for seven months you're working so hard on your rehab to try to come back, and you have the adrenaline, and you have the juice. The last seven or eight games, I felt like I was hitting a wall because I worked so hard to come back fast. At the same time I was hitting the wall, I twisted my ankle. So, I felt like it was just bad timing with everything. But at the end of the day, you have to find a way to produce, and I have confidence in myself. I was talking to my doctor, and he told me that's normal that you're going to hit the wall. It's at 10 or 11 months that you're really, really back. They always say the second year, you'll play even better than the first year back. So that's why I have to be patient."
Spurs swingman Danny Green told reporters he learned about Popovich's decision before the game, but wasn't told why.
"It's above my pay grade, it's above my head," Green said. "At the start, it was different. But I think Dejounte did a great job of coming in and pushing the pace. I think that's what they wanted him to do [with] working Tony in with the pick-and-roll game. But Dejounte gets it up the floor. He's kind of the road runner. So, we're using him efficiently with obviously matchups defensively; his long arms, his athleticism and rebounding. And offensively, just pushing the pace and trying to give us more movement. I don't know, I just had to guess. But you'd have to ask big boss."
Sunday's 94-86 loss to the Pacers marked just the 14th time in 1,165 career games that Parker came off the bench.
* * *