By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:26AM
Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in France set off a tornado in Texas?
Those were most definitely strong winds kicked up by point guard Tony Parker when he went back home to Paris last spring and declared the Spurs' days as championship contenders finished.
"At the start of the season, I said this was our last chance," Parker told the French newspaper L'Equipe. "Tim and 'Gino' are getting old. It's going to be tough to regenerate ourselves. We will always have a good team, but we can no longer say that we're playing for a championship."
While there is no disputing the facts that teammates Tim Duncan (35) and Manu Ginobili (34) are graybeards by NBA standards, in a constantly-shrinking world that is connected by the Internet, Parker's words struck home in San Antonio as if someone had egged the Alamo.
The result was weeks of speculation approaching the 2011 Draft about Parker's future with the club. As the youngest (29) member of the Spurs' Big Three, was he a candidate for a trade? Would the Spurs work a deal that could move them up high enough in the first round to select Parker's successor?
In the end, the Spurs traded away point guard George Hill, chose point guard Cory Joseph with the 29th pick and welcomed Parker back to town for an 11th NBA season where even more of the burden will be on him.
But first things first: Parker had to moonwalk back from his comments from last spring.
"Since I've been in San Antonio, it's always had the same goal," he said. "We always want to win a championship. Our team is good enough, but you know it's always tough because a lot of teams are very talented, and a lot of young teams are coming up, so we just have to make sure we can keep up, make sure we can be competitive."
To do that, the veteran core of the Spurs will have to deal with the rigors of the compact 66-game schedule that the league will play in the lockout-shortened season. San Antonio will have 17 sets of back-to-back games and two sets of back-to-back-to-backs.
However, six of the first eight games and nine of the first 13 will be at home, where the Spurs will need to get the same leg up as last season when a home-heavy slate helped them open with a 13-2 record.
They will also likely need Parker to continue to increase his scoring output while also running the offense and pushing the tempo. A year ago, he averaged 17.5 points and 6.6 assists as Duncan's points dropped to a career-low 13.4.
If Parker can take the mantle of running the show and keep the Spurs among the elite in the Western Conference, it wouldn't be the first time that he's exceeded expectations.
When he was taken with the 28th pick in the 2001 Draft, Parker was a teenager whose experience was with a team called Paris Basket Racing. No 19-year-old had ever started an NBA season at point guard and yet there he was, wowing the likes of general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich and right there in the starting lineup one week into his rookie season.
Parker has always made it look easy, feeding passes to Duncan and David Robinson down low, playing off Ginobili on the wing, making those mad-dash, end-to-end, one-man races for fast break layups, all the while dealing with the snarling demands of the hard-driving Popovich in his ears.
How does he do it? Mostly with a French savoir faire that lets him smile in virtually every situation on the court and at the occasional pickle he sometimes gets himself in with his honesty.
Duncan limped through the Memphis series with a sprained ankle and Ginobili had a right elbow injury that made him almost one-handed against the Grizzlies. Now those two are in camp looking fit and healthy and Parker has declared himself to be ready after leading France to a silver medal finish over the summer in the Eurobasket championship.
There are many who believe the Spurs are still capable of piling up wins during the regular season, but are past the time when they can contend in the playoffs for a title. So is Parker as much a part of that group as he seemed when he made his observations last spring?
"Pop will make us compete," he said.
1. Make sure that Tony Parker's head is back into the game and the program after summer comments that Spurs' championship window might have closed last season.
2. As long as Manu can be Manu and Tim Duncan's minutes managed through the regular season, the Spurs will remain a playoff fixture.
3. Contributions from rookies Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph could be the injection of youth needed by a roster that is aging rapidly at the core.
1. After two lost seasons, it's time get someone else into the small forward spot that was supposed to be filled by Richard Jefferson.
2. An early calf injury was a season-long setback as a rookie and now Tiago Splitter needs to step up to fill the middle and cover Duncan's back.
3. In three seasons, the Spurs fell from second in NBA in points allowed to 14th, some due to pace of play, some just to poorer defense.
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LAST YEAR: 61-21, 1st in Southwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
TONY PARKER, POINT GUARD
17.5 PPG | 6.6 APG | 32.4 MPG
Nobody on the aging Spurs played more minutes than Parker, 29. Quick, shifty and the master of the floater, he still is a pain for any opposing defense.
MANU GINOBILI, SHOOTING GUARD
17.9 PPG | 4.9 APG | 3.7 RPG
The team's leading scorer started a career-best 79 games and had his best scoring mark since 2007-08, impressive for someone who looked done two years ago.
RICHARD JEFFERSON, SMALL FORWARD
11.0 PPG | 3.8 RPG | .440 3P%
He's not the scorer he once was, but found his 3-point shot (5th in NBA in 3P%) in the offense after first-year struggles. As always, he plays solid defense.
TIM DUNCAN, POWER FORWARD
13.4 PPG | 8.9 RPG | 28.4 MPG
The Spurs chopped his minutes to keep him fresh, but he still scores and rebounds at roughly the same rate.
TIAGO SPLITTER, CENTER
4.6 PPG | 3.4 RPG | .529 FG%
Splitter enters second NBA season needing to get stronger in the paint and on the boards to live up to his immense promise.
|Gary Neal||6-4||210||G||Undrafted sharpshooter proved to a fearless and effective weapon.|
|Matt Bonner||6-11||240||F||Red Rocket hit at a .457 clip from behind the 3-point line.|
|Kawhi Leonard||6-7||225||F||Draft-day prize could contribute at Spurs' iffy small forward spot.|
ADDED: F Kawhi Leonard, F David Bertans, F Adam Hanga, G Cory Joseph, G T.J. Ford
LOST: G George Hill, F-C Antonio McDyess (retired)
MANU GINOBILI, G
How much longer can the 35-year-old continue to play with reckless abandon and throw his body all over the floor to make plays? He’s the spark that lights the Spurs’ fuse, but the elbow injury limited his effectiveness and probably was difference in first-round loss to Memphis last spring.
|Highlight of the Night|
Mike Conley gets Tony Parker in the air with a shot-fake and beats the shot clock with a big three-pointer.
|Spurs vs Grizzlies: Game 3|
Tim Duncan records 24 points and 10 rebounds, Tony Parker adds 26 points as the Spurs defeat the Grizzlies in overtime.
|Press Pass: Manu Ginobili|
San Antonio's Manu Ginobili talks with the media after the Spurs won Game 3.
|Saturday's Top 5|
Tony Allen's steal and finish leads off Saturday's Top 5 plays from Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
|Press Pass: Mike Conley|
Memphis' Mike Conley talks with the media after the Grizzlies fall in to an 0-3 hole against the Spurs.