With the real chance that Tony Parker leaves the San Antonio Spurs this offseason, which teams would be an intriguing fit for him?
Since 2001, Tony Parker has been a member of the San Antonio Spurs, who selected him No. 28 overall in that year’s NBA Draft. Through contract extensions, the Tim Duncan era, and championships, Parker kept his starting job at point guard and became a mainstay.
However, the situation began to change in the 2017-18 season. At age 35, Parker lost the starting point guard job to Dejounte Murray, someone 14 years his junior. It was the first time Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich relegated Parker to a permanent bench role, playing 21 games as a starter compared to 34 as not.
This role change came in the final year of Parker’s contract. He can hit free agency on July 1, and unless the Spurs work out an agreement with him beforehand, that will likely be the case.
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Recently, the Frenchman spoke on his desire to play three more seasons, to get to 20 total for his career, whether it’s with the Spurs or another team. That would be unusual to see him in a different uniform, as no one from the Duncan-Parker-Manu Ginobili era ever left San Antonio.
In a time when higher-profile players seem to change teams more often than not, or at least flirt with the possibility (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George), would it shock anyone if Parker chose to go elsewhere for an opportunity? Players say “it’s a business,” so will this be tested?
If Parker leaves, there may be suitors for his services. While no one has been rumored, there could be interesting options for him outside of the Lone Star State. Let’s take a look at potential suitors.
Next: New York Knicks
4. New York Knicks
For a player that’s near the end of his career, the New York Knicks do not appear as a thrilling fit. They have an injured star, Kristaps Porzingis, a new coach and plenty of unknowns on the roster, along with an expensive contract or two. So where does Tony Parker fit?
The Knicks are young at point guard, with 22-year-old Emmanual Mudiay and 19-year-old Frank Ntilikina. If Parker willingly takes a significant paycut and has interest in grooming the future of the NBA, he can work with these two and try to help them become quality point guards.
Parker and Ntilkina are not unfamiliar to each other, however, as they both hail from France. Not only that, but Ntilikina played against the French basketball team Parker owns.
In January, Parker spoke to Newsday on the 2017 first-round pick’s abilities to become a good player in the league:
“Definitely. I think he’s got the right skills to be good in this league,” the Spurs point guard, who once tried to sign Ntilikina to his team, said before facing the Knicks on Thursday night. “He’s a great defender, he’s got length. That’s always good to start your career, to be good defensively. Offense will come. It’s his first year, so he needs to go around the league one time and get used to all the point guards. I think he’s got all the right stuff. I don’t know if New York will be patient. But I think he can be successful in this league.”
If Parker wants a first-hand account of Ntilikina’s development and is willing to sacrifice at least one season of contending, will he seek interest in New York? How much money would he ask for in his this situation?
This sounds somewhat similar to Parker’s situation with the San Antonio Spurs. He can continue to work with Dejounte Murray and help Derrick White, who has the chance to receive a bigger role next season. Plus, it’s the familiarity under Popovich and a handful of players that have been around for multiple seasons.
Next: Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder represent a chance for Tony Parker to stay close to home, and remain with a top team in the Western Conference.
A stay in the West gives Parker familiarity. That goes for any of the other 13 teams, though, so why the Thunder?
Parker can play a relaxed backup role behind Russell Westbrook, who continues to see heavy minutes at point guard (a career-high 36.4 minutes per game in 2017-18). He would not have to play anything more than 15-20 minutes per game and just allow Westbrook to rest on occasion.
Raymond Felton fit the backup point guard role in Oklahoma City, but can hit free agency in July. If he does not return, it opens the spot behind Westbrook. With a championship-experienced guard on the open market, could Thunder general manager Sami Presti show interest, especially after being a former member of the Spurs organization himself?
Oklahoma City may have a problem with money, though, unless Parker takes a significant pay cut. Carmelo Anthony is owed nearly $28 million in 2018-19 and it would not be unforeseen if he opted in despite some tensions. However, a potential buyout would free up money, even if the team remains above the salary cap, and makes it easier to offer a mid-level exception-esque contract to Parker and have him leave the San Antonio Spurs.
Next: Portland Trail Blazers
2. Portland Trail Blazers
On top of that, the Blazers have a handful of players set for restricted or unrestricted free agency: Ed Davis, Jusuf Nurkic, Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier. Retaining all of them could prove difficult, so it may mean inexpensive contracts are on the way to fill out the roster.
Napier fit the backup point guard role and just had his best NBA season, which may make his return to Portland unlikely. So, if this organization wants a short-term option to play behind Lillard and McCollum, could it land Parker?
Depending on the figure the 35 year old wants, it may be tough to fit him on the salary cap. But if a veteran who might not stick around for long is desired, instead of handing out a multi-year contract to Napier or another free agent, it makes sense. That’s especially if the Blazers want someone with title wins as a locker room presence after the first round sweep to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The question, again, goes to money and if Portland will have any available. If there’s mutual interest, could this link-up happen and leave the San Antonio Spurs behind?
Next: New Orleans Pelicans
1. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans do not jump off the page as a top-end suitor for Tony Parker, if he leaves the San Antonio Spurs. However, their offseason situation potentially sets up an opening to bring him to the team.
After Rajon Rondo‘s rebound season, he will hit free agency and possibly receive a lucrative deal. With Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday locked in for mega contracts and DeMarcus Cousins‘ money in question, it could mean Rondo prices himself out.
If the Pelicans retain Cousins, it leaves little money available, that’s if anything remains except a few exceptions that places the team above the salary cap. Not exactly ideal for Parker, but the fit is still there for a point guard opportunity, whether it’s as a part-time starter or a backup to Holiday, who can shift from shooting guard to the position he played for most of his NBA career.
More likely, a backup role fits Parker with New Orleans. He would be a cheap alternative to Rondo, even though it’s not someone that can replace him. Instead, someone like E’Twaun Moore remains a starter and pairs with Holiday in the backcourt. Who fits at small forward remains to be seen (it can’t be Solomon Hill after barely playing in 2017-18), as New Orleans does not own a first-round pick, won’t have a lot of money to spend and Nikola Mirotic profiles as a four and would be an unusual play as a wing.
Even the Pelicans do not make perfect sense for Parker, but it’s one of the better fits for him in the NBA. Either way, will fans see him leave the San Antonio Spurs this offseason?