Tony Parker was a scold and a nag with the Charlotte Hornets. That’s exactly what he should have been, and that presence will be missed.
Parker announced Monday he’s retiring from the NBA after 18 seasons: 17 with the San Antonio Spurs and the last one with the Hornets. He’s a hall of fame lock following four championships with the Spurs. With the Hornets, he was Kemba Walker’s backup and a teller of uncomfortable truths.
He would get in Miles Bridges’ face for missing a defensive assignment. He would show Devonte Graham the open teammates he overlooked. He would point out the spots on the floor Malik Monk should have reached faster.
Parker didn’t do this to be a know-it-all. He did it because coach James Borrego installed him as the Hornets’ savant-in-residence before training camp began in Chapel Hill last September.
Parker enjoyed passing on wisdom and was never reluctant to correct. He was accustomed to winning and that didn’t happen here. In April, Parker said it was 50-50 whether he’d return to Charlotte, but to me that was a far more remote possibility.
After 18 seasons, four championship runs and $168 million in earnings, Parker doesn’t need the $5.25 million he’d have made off the 2019-20 season. Or the aggravation of playing for a team that has missed the playoffs three straight seasons.
He was being outmoded, not playing and often not even in uniform for the Hornets’ last 13 games. Yet he leaves a void.
The combined salaries of Walker and Parker last season — $17 million — was an absurd bargain for the Hornets at point guard. Now, Parker is gone and Walker is an unrestricted free agent. The only point guard currently under contract for next season is Graham, a second-round draft pick in 2018.
Graham made terrific progress last season and averaged 19 minutes in the Hornets’ last 10 games. He finished with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio — excellent for a rookie — but there are still major holes in his skill set.
Graham has to improve his outside shooting, after going 28 percent from the 3-point line. He has to be more of a slasher to the rim to facilitate the Hornets’ tepid half-court offense.
Graham is a keeper, but he’s no solution. Even assuming Walker re-signs with the Hornets, general manager Mitch Kupchak will have to add a veteran to at least be a combo guard with some skills at the point.
They have gone from comfortably deep to unsettled at the most important position in basketball.
Tony Parker’s legacy
Obviously, last season as a Hornet will be just a footnote in Parker’s career, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have impact. There were a handful of games when he still dominated, when he controlled every sector of the court with the ball in his hands.
The best moment had to be Parker’s return to San Antonio in mid-January. Not just for the tribute video and all his family flying in from Europe as a surprise, but because the Hornets won that night playing like the team he kept telling them they should be.
Parker’s comments after that game were classic Tony: Rather than reveling, he used the win as a platform to teach and prod.
“Why don’t we play like that every road game?” Parker asked outside the Hornets locker room.
“’Come on guys, you have no excuse!’ I’m going to be on them now.”
He was that to the end; the magnificent scold.