There is a riddle that isn’t really funny but riddles aren’t supposed to be funny, they are supposed to hit you with a sober truth. Who was a bigger ghost in San Antonio in 2017-18, Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard? The reason this is a riddle instead of a question is that Parker was active in games and Leonard was in hiding somewhere in America. Yet Parker was as just as much a ghost as Kawhi, even more so.
The 20 something who took Parker’s place as a starter in the rotation, Dejounte Murray, didn’t score 10 points a game, he didn’t collect six dimes, he had a very pedestrian number(s) of 8 and 3, though he is a rebounding guard with length. That bitter and sweet of Murray was better than 35 year old Tony Parker who looked like a mirage of his former Finals MVP self.
Now Parker has left San Antonio, like Kawhi left and Danny Green left. Parker is in Charlotte, a backup to Kemba Walker and may be a starter if Walker is traded.
It is convenient to romanticize a player once he is past thirty. We like to trot out the injury excuse and then the he’s so old excuse. But before the injury that took Parker’s career away, Parker was going downhill. His last great season was five years ago and that was before collecting ring number four. He averaged 20 points and 7 assists. The Spurs should have won the title that year but Chris Bosh and Ray Allen pulled off the Miami miracle and in Game 7 Tim Duncan missed a go-ahead layup with less than a minute left. The Spurs would have to wait 12 more months for revenge. But by then, Tony Parker had acquiesced to Kawhi Leonard as best player on the Spurs.
With Kawhi’s malcontent, Tony Parker should have been able to regain his place back in the Spurs ecosystem surrounded by young players without elite talent. But Parker is 35 and a little broken and a little old. Rudy Gay is a better player and no one saw that coming.
Parker played 19 minutes a game in 2017-18 and had a career low 27% from three. That’s rare air for Parker, even in those wonder years when he was a kid from France (born in Belgium) who Pop was always berating on the sidelines, captured by national television cameras, this young kid and the stern coach.
Parker will argue you up and down that he had the worst pressure upon him at the beginning of his career and took the most abuse, not LeBron James.
The 7.7 ppg of 2017-18 was well below his rookie point total of 9.2. His 109 Defensive Rating is career worst. Tony Parker was a liability when he was on the floor. It’s come to that in his career.
Parker made headlines when he made some pretty aggressive comments about Kawhi Leonards extended hiatus and most summed it up as Parker being a Gregg Popovich mouthpiece. But a few years ago Parker said this about the Warriors as they were trying for a record breaking season. Parker wasn’t having any of the hype foolishness.
“I’ll say they’ve been having an unbelievable season. Being in the league 15 years, it’s tough to try to get 70 wins with all the back-to-backs and all the great teams you have in the league. So it’s pretty impressive. Compare them to the Bulls. They won six titles in eight years. So you have to give a little bit of time to that team to see how well they’re going to do over 10 years, the longevity. The Spurs, we’ve won five titles since ’99. That’s how you judge teams.”
Because this was Parker’s free agent year, it was always going to end with him saying goodbye. The Spurs care less about players aging and more about do you want to continue?. Coming off the bench, Parker is good enough but his days of 20+ minutes are over. He wasn’t a good teammate when he said he had the same Kawhi injury and his was worse but he played through it. That lacked empathy and was adversarial, something Kawhi may have personalized. It gave Parker a jealous look.
The Tony Parker we remember is for the ages, the 43 points against the Mavs in the first round (2009), the 37 against the Grizzlies that carried the Spurs to that ill-fated NBA Finals heartbreak, the Finals MVP in 2007. That Tony has come and gone for the most part, but every now and then he is a visitor to our romantic selves nudging us to remember what we once saw. We witnessed magnificent perfection in his speed to the rim, a sweet jumper and score, a steal and fastbreak. And then it stopped. He was old or he was injured or he was different. The past is not prologue, it’s not. This Tony is ordinary.