Tony Parker Proves He’s Still Got It, Contemplates 19th NBA Season
After spending 17 glorious years with the San Antonio Spurs, some basketball fans might have found it a bit odd to see Tony Parker dawn a different-colored jersey for the first time in his NBA career. But watching him take the floor in the purple and teal was certainly a pleasant sight for the Charlotte Hornets as the 36-year-old point guard brought some much-needed stability and order to the team’s second unit.
With four championship rings, four All-NBA selections and a Finals MVP Award already in his trophy case, Parker surprised the basketball world by signing a deal with the Hornets last summer. San Antonio was shifting in a different direction with its backcourt and the presence of former Spurs Assistant James Borrego, countryman Nicolas Batum and idol Michael Jordan in Charlotte made the Queen City a perfect destination.
Parker’s impact in the rotation was felt immediately as he provided the team with an invaluable skillset predicated on calmness, control and expertise. Outside of the occasional spinning layup to the basket, he never did anything overly-flashy. Instead, he played with a sense of purpose and efficiency, while minimizing any unnecessary, wasted movements.
He keyed a number of fourth-quarter rallies off the bench, helping space the floor and take pressure off Kemba Walker down the stretch of games. Parker often rested on back-to-backs and had a few minor injuries here and there, which allowed rookie Devonte’ Graham to get some valuable playing time in the process.
One particular night though that stands out was Parker’s first game in San Antonio as an opposing player back on Jan. 14. Amidst standing ovations and a tear-jerking tribute video, the savvy veteran finished with eight points and four assists as the Hornets rolled to an emotionally-charged 108-93 win, their first at the AT&T Center since 2006.
“This year he was great,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “During that period from November through January when it was hard to put together a winning streak, he alone helped us win four or five games by himself. His pedigree with 17 years of winning championships, a great voice in the locker room – I thought he was a great addition this year.”
When mid-March rolled around and the Hornets went with their youth movement, Parker was left outside the rotation for 15 of the schedule’s final 17 games. As a competitor, it was certainly a frustrating, but understandable, turn of events for the Frenchman, although it did allow Graham to get some high-stakes minutes during the team’s postseason push.
“Obviously, I’m a little bit disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs because that was the main goal,” Parker said. “As for me personally, I was very happy to be in Charlotte. I had a great year. People are awesome here and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I just wish that we made the playoffs.”
Parker came off the bench in each of his 56 games this season, finishing with averages of 9.5 PPG on 46.0% shooting and 3.7 APG (seventh in the NBA amongst reserves; mini. 55 GP). He moved up to 17th place on the NBA’s all-time assists leaderboard (7,036) and trails only Steve Nash for most by an international player. Only Dirk Nowitzki and former teammate Tim Duncan have played more regular season games amongst non-US-born players than Parker (1,254).
Parker stated at his exit interview on April 11 that he is 50/50 on returning for a 19th NBA season. A significant factor in his decision will be how competitive the Hornets are heading into the 2019-20 campaign, although his preference is to return to Charlotte as opposed to another organization.
“He has earned the right to do whatever he wants this summer,” said Borrego. “He needs to just take some time, be with family, figure out what he wants to do. I think it is fair for him to look at our organization and see where we are at this summer. Obviously, he wants to be in a competitive environment, and a lot of that will be determined this summer. I think if you were to say ‘Tony, this group is coming back again next season,’ I think he would take it. He sacrificed a lot being away from his group in San Antonio.”
He added, “Tony has been great. I would love to have him back. He has helped me this season, he helped our group. He gave me and us more than I ever thought going into the season, but I understand his position where he is at. This is a guy that could have easily walked away last year with the Spurs or played another year with the Spurs.”
In the meantime, Parker and Batum co-own a team in the French Jeep Élite called LDLC ASVEL, which currently boasts ESPN’s fourth-ranked 2020 NBA Draft prospect in point guard Théo Maledon. As of Wednesday, May 1, the club is in first place and will be looking to bring home its first French League title since 2016 when the LNB Pro A playoffs begin in a few weeks.
“I’m just going to go back to France,” said Parker when asked about his offseason plans. “The playoffs start mid-May and right now we’re looking good. We’re in first place in the regular season, but that doesn’t mean anything because playoffs are a whole new season. I’m excited to go see my team – the boys and the girls, too. The girls are in first place, too in the regular season, so the playoffs are going to be exciting.”
Parker retired from international play a few years ago, but still plans to be on hand to watch Les Bleus at this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China. He also hopes to take in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be hosted in France for the first time starting on June 7.
Parker showed that’s he’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank despite having nearly 1,500 NBA contests (including playoffs) under his belt. Only time will tell if there’s a 19th season in the cards, but if nothing else, it certainly was a pleasure to watch the future Hall-of-Famer add a Charlotte chapter to his storied basketball career.