There’s no particular reason why this should be received as bad news, but it is something of a bummer: Tony Parker is leaving the San Antonio Spurs after 17 seasons to serve as a backup to Kemba Walker in Charlotte.
The roster math just doesn’t make sense for Parker in San Antonio. Dejounte Murray has firmly supplanted Parker as the franchise point guard, and Patty Mills is under contract for another three seasons as a capable backup whose shooting makes him a better fit in the modern game. Given Parker’s size and age, there shouldn’t be any minutes available for him at any position other than point guard. In other words, the Spurs couldn’t offer him any playing time without injuries to guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Per ESPN, the Spurs did want Parker back, but what they had in mind was a mentorship role.
The Hornets have been struggling to find a capable backup for Walker since Jeremy Lin left town in the 2016 offseason. Ramon Sessions was horrible for them two seasons ago, and last season the Hornets tried to resurrect Michael Carter-Williams in the role, to no avail. Parker, at 36 years old, is brittle and limited, but when he’s healthy he’s still a smart and shifty operator who can keep an offense on track. The move is unlikely to move the needle a whole lot for the Hornets, but after two seasons of watching their offense completely crater without Walker on the floor, plain old veteran stability starts to look more and more appealing.
And then there’s this: there’s no very good reason to expect the Hornets to be much better next season than they were last season, when they won just 36 games and missed the playoffs. Walker will be in the final year of his contract in Charlotte—it’s not out of the question that the Hornets could trade him to a playoff hopeful before his contract expires and trigger a rebuild. Should that happen, Parker would be in line for at least a partial season as a starter in Charlotte. The choice was between never playing on an unsettled Spurs team enduring a period of transition, versus playing rotation minutes on a ho-hum Hornets team where potential roster instability looms at his preferred position. Parker, who has achieved just about as much as a player can achieve over his career, clearly wants to play some damn basketball.
So it’s good news for Parker but also the end of an era, and of course Parker had to break the news to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs:
“Tough decision. Tough three days. Tough communicating it all to Pop,” Parker told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “But I had to move on. It was a very emotional conversation with Pop and R.C. Buford. I will always love San Antonio. I will always be a Spur.”
Parker will be playing with countryman Nic Batum, and under new Hornets head coach James Borrego, who was an assistant in San Antonio for 12 of Parker’s 17 years in a Spurs uniform, including the last four. But that will not make it any less weird to see Tony Parker scampering around an NBA court in a teal Hornets jersey. With Tim Duncan gone, Manu Ginobili considering retirement, and Kawhi Leonard agitating his way out of town, the great Spurs dynasty of the last two decades is finally fading into memory.