For as shocking as it was, Tony Parker’s departure from the San Antonio Spurs in the summer was in the best interest of both parties.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker – the three members that comprised the “Big Three” that led the San Antonio Spurs to four championships in 14 seasons together – will all eventually have their jerseys hanging from the rafters in the AT&T Center. Of the trio, Parker is the only player to play a game in San Antonio wearing a jersey that doesn’t say “Spurs” on it.
The former Finals MVP made his return to his home court for 17 seasons on January 14 after signing a two year, $10 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason. For the second time in just 11 days, Spurs fans welcomed (maybe not the case for Kawhi Leonard) a former player’s return.
For both sides, there should be not regrets about parting ways. At the end of the day, ending the “Big Three” era was the right move both Parker and the Spurs. Parker’s departure was spurred by his diminishing role for the Silver and Black. He relinquished his starting role in favor of the younger Dejounte Murray in February of last year and his role was only going to decrease more this season.
“Pop just told me that I was going to be the third point guard, and I had to think really hard about if I was going to stay,” Parker said.
We all know how it went from there- Charlotte provided an opportunity for a bigger role and allowed Parker to play under James Borrego, who had spent 10 seasons with the Spurs as an Assistant Coach and had been hired as the Hornets head coach just two months before.
Joining the Hornets gave Parker the opportunity to play with fellow Frenchman Nicolas Batum and, simply put, try something new.
“I’ve been with the Spurs for a long time – 17 years. I just wanted to – I know it sounds simple – but I just wanted to see something else – go to the East Coast and go do something else in the NBA.” Parker said.
There would be no complaints from Spurs fans if Parker chose to remain with the team, considering all he had done for the organization. His decision to leave, however, helped the team by opening up minutes for Derrick White and Bryn Forbes.
Parker’s services would have been helpful to start the season. Injuries to Murray (Torn ACL, out for season), White (Plantar Fasciitis, missed 9 games) and Lonnie Walker IV (Torn Meniscus, 1 appearance) depleted San Antonio’s backcourt depth, taking away it’s first two point guards and San Antonio’s first round pick in 2018.
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Forbes and White have more than held their own this season. Since being held scoreless in a loss to the Bulls on December 15, Forbes has reached double digits in points in 14 of the 18 games in that stretch, while shooting 42% from deep. As DeRozan’s January shooting struggles continue (15.3 ppg, 39% from the field), White has translated more minutes (24.9 in December to 31.5 in January) into more offensive success. His points per game has ballooned to 14.6, while shooting 47.8% from the field.
Parker hasn’t started a game this season and he’s averaging 9.5 points and 3.9 assists in a career-low 18.5 minutes per game as Kemba Walker’s backup. Forbes and White average 28.4 and 24.7 minutes per game respectively. With DeMar DeRozan leading the team in minutes per game (35.3) and handling a chunk of the playmaking, it’s easy to see why Parker would be the third point guard.
Seeing Tony Parker take the floor in San Antonio wearing a Hornets jersey was strange and upsetting, but through 48 games, it’s clear that the split was the right choice for both Parker and the Spurs. Parker can serve a larger role on a different team, while the Spurs can see what White and Forbes do with expanded roles. For the Spurs, this season was about restructuring the roster and seeing what works.
Forbes, White and DeRozan have struggled at times as they continue to adjust to a new system, but these are rough patches that are just part of the learning curve.