Tony Parker deserves to get paid, but not overpaid
The end of 2013 was an interesting one for Tony Parker. First, the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jabari Young reported Parker would be open to looking at other teams if he doesn’t get an extension before his contract is up in the summer of 2015. Then, the larger issue, photos surfaced of Parker and Boris Diaw using the controversial gesture called the “quenelle.” Parker issued an apology for the gesture and it appears he genuinely didn’t know the severity of the quenelle.
While the issue of the quenelle seems to be resolved for now, what happens to Parker in relation to the Spurs is a more open-ended question. As Young points out, his salary for next season is only guaranteed for $3.5 million if he’s waived by June 30. Past that, it’s fully guaranteed at $12.5 million and then he’s a free agent the following summer. Barring a catastrophic injury, there is no way the Spurs are going to waive Parker between the end of the Spurs playoff run and June 30. He’s a steal at his current contract. But he’s already expressed his desire for an extension and has said he’s open to moving on in free agency.
“I want to stay positive,” Parker said, “but if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. My wish is to stay here and play my whole career here, but if there is no more Pop or Timmy or Manu, I’m not against going somewhere. I’m not against that.”
There’s nothing wrong with Parker wanting an extension and absolutely nothing wrong with him exploring his options in free agency. He’s never been a free agent and was never recruited to play college ball, so even if he has no intention of leaving the Spurs, it’s okay if he wanted to be wooed by other teams. It happened with Manu Ginobili in the middle of the last decade. It’s fine.
However, Parker’s going to have quite a bit of leverage in his next contract. Tim Duncan and Manu could both be gone when the new deal starts, leaving Parker as the sole face of the franchise for at least a few years barring a big free agent signing. He’ll be coming off a great three- or four-year run that included at least one top five MVP finish. He has been loyal to the Spurs, signing for below market value at least once. He’s going to want to get paid like the face of a franchise, like an MVP candidate, a three-time NBA champion and former Finals MVP.
At the same time, he’s going to be 33 years old when his current deal is up and will have just finished his 14th season. He’s already logged nearly 36,000 minutes, not counting international competition. He’ll be close to 40,000 by the summer of 2015. How much do you pay for a player that’s logged that many minutes already? The good news is, while Parker has suffered a random ankle sprain or hand break, he’s not injury prone. I’ve written in years past that I expect Parker’s body to break down sooner rather than later and it hasn’t happened yet. He continues to be reliable from a durability standpoint and has improved his game in recent years.
Overpaying a 33-year-old point guard entering his 15th year doesn’t sound terrible, but overpaying a 37-year-old one who is entering year 18 does. And before you say the Spurs may not have to overpay Parker, understand that he and his agent already know teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks will have the cap space to pursue him if he gets to free agency. They’ll know that when extension time comes and both teams can overpay because things like the luxury tax mean less to them than it does the Spurs.
Parker’s going to get paid more than the $12.5 million he currently makes. The question is how much is too much? And how long is too long? Ideally, a 3 year, $45 million extension is right. It doesn’t lock the Spurs into anything long term, but it gets Parker a nice pay raise. They can afford an overpay in the short term. After next season, the Spurs will have only Tiago Splitter under contract. They’ll have Kawhi Leonard’s extension to worry about, but after that everything is a blank surface. A four or five year deal between $15 and $20 million annually just sounds like one of those bad deals poorly run teams hand out after a player has peaked. I don’t think the Spurs will do that, but it gets dicey if they don’t figure out an extension and let Parker hit the open market.
This is still a long ways away, but Parker addressing the topic (even if he was just answering the question) means he’s thought about his future with the team. Should he be the face of the Spurs when Duncan, Ginobili and Coach Pop leave? Will the Spurs be in a full rebuild mode in two years or just reloading? These are things to think about as the Spurs tweak their roster moving forward.