Keeping Tony Parker not a question, even if his future is
The San Antonio Spurs kicked off training camp 2010 in the same fashion as last season–with much optimism, a typical Gregg Popovich dress-down of the media, and endless inquiries concerning the future of their All-Star backcourt.
Never one to tip his hand too much, or engage in needless speculation, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was willing to divulge two facts with absolute certainty: Tony Parker, barring a repeat of last season’s injuries, will be the starting point guard. And more importantly, he will, as always, be a professional regardless of contract status.
“I don’t have to think about it, I know how he’s going to approach it, he’ll approach it professionally,” Popovich said. “His number one interest will be to make our team as good as he possibly can.”
Still, in the interest of framing a conversation which is certain to linger until February, I’d like to ask this hypothetical: If the Spurs knew they could not resign Tony Parker, but he had the team in contention, should they trade him?
In the short term the Spurs should benefit from the motivation of a contract year for Tony Parker. The impending free agent has vowed to attack the season with a vengeance, having dedicated the offseason to working on his game and his body.
“I’m starting the second part of my career,” Parker said. “I have to be dedicated to my body, make sure I stay healthy, eat well, get my rest. I’m not 20 anymore.”
Tony Parker is in fact 28, and should be nearing his peak as a basketball player. For all the talk of Tiago Splitter, the Spurs biggest acquisition might be the return of their All-NBA point guard. After all, no matter how much San Antonio builds up their supporting cast, they’re still just a supporting cast. Any title hopes are still built on the foundations of its Big Three.
It’s a foundation whose time is coming to an end, as Parker noted in explaining his beliefs that this season is this core’s last opportunity to win a championship.
“It’s a long season and Timmy’s like 34, going to be 35,” Parker said. “That’s why I felt like this is our last chance to win a championship. When Timmy’s gone, then it’s going to be really tough.”
Say what you will about Parker’s candor, but he’s not wrong. There are no immediate title hopes beyond Tim Duncan’s career, no matter how well the younger Spurs develop. NBA championships are won by superstars, most of which are acquired within the top five picks of the draft.
Some might throw out the Dumars/Brown PistonsÂ as an argument against the necessity of superstars, but realize that both Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace were originally top five picks. Those Pistons teams may not have had a superstar, but they had five players who took turns as All-Stars. Joe Dumars didn’t ask Jackie Moon to win an NBA championship.
In all probability, this season represents the most important year in what’s left of Tim Duncan’s (and for that matter, Manu Ginobili) career. Given his age and contract status, any team looking to trade for Parker would be one hoping his presence would put them over the top.
Unless Chris Wallace replaces Gregg Popovich sometime in the near future, any package the Spurs take back for Parker couldn’t squander the opportunity that is this season. In short, the Spurs will not get equal value for Tony Parker in any plausible trade scenario. At least not immediately. As an enticing as a young player and draft pick(s) may be, neither of those are a help to Tim Duncan today.
The Spurs are too close to the end of Tim Duncan’s career to break up their core. They owe it to Duncan to try for their fifth championship, even at the risk of losing Parker for nothing.
And all trade scenarios should be built with only the next 2-3 years in mind. There is a nice, young nucleus quietly taking shape in San Antonio with George Hill, Dejuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and possibly James Anderson. Unfortunately that core is probably good enough to keep the team out of the basement–where it could acquire the superstar needed to continue contending–but not good enough to secure a playoff spot.
So long as Tim Duncan remains relevant in the NBA, and he still is, the Spurs should be in contention. And if that means a one-year, future-be-damned run with Tony Parker, so be it.
Losing Parker for nothing? A fighting chance at an NBA championship is much more than nothing.