Tony Parker says he didn’t choose the Charlotte Hornets over playing time, role or money.
To him, it’s about the challenge of helping first-time head coach James Borrego establish a new culture with the Hornets, the comfort level with longtime friend and fellow Frenchman Nic Batum and the intrigue of working for his lifelong “idol,” Hornets owner and Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan.
“I take this very seriously,” Parker said of his spending his 18th NBA season with the Hornets when he signs a two-year contract worth a reported $10 million later this week. “(That approach) is why we were so good in San Antonio: We were never satisfied; we pushed our limitations.”
Parker spoke by telephone with the Observer Monday afternoon. He said he didn’t ask for assurances of playing time from the Hornets over leaving the Spurs, the only NBA team in a career that started in 2001 when Parker was 19 and the 28th overall pick.
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Since then, Parker, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was in the core of four NBA championship teams alongside Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Parker does not know what it’s like to end an NBA season without a playoff appearance.
“I hope not to break that streak!” Parker said of the Hornets making the playoffs in 2018-19.
Borrego was a Spurs assistant to Gregg Popovich in two different stints during Parker’s time in San Antonio. Borrego said Saturday he didn’t want to talk extensively about the addition of Parker until the signing, but Borrego made it clear how critical Parker could be to what Borrego is looking to instill.
“We were trying to find a player in free agency that had experience, had wisdom, had winning DNA,” Borrego said. “We’ve identified a player for our roster who can really help us grow, take that next step: credibility, accountability, wisdom, experience.
“He is such a valuable piece and has been to that San Antonio organization. We’re very fortunate right now.”
Need behind Kemba Walker
Borrego and general manager Mitch Kupchak both said before free agency opened on July 1 that the Hornets’ primary need was another ball-handling guard. Parker will back up two-time All-Star Kemba Walker at point guard, along with rookie Devonte Graham.
Parker played mostly off the bench last season with the Spurs behind Dejounte Murray. Parker suffered a serious injury — a ruptured quadriceps tendon — during the playoffs in May 2017. Borrego said it was huge to the Spurs that Parker rehabbed that injury to the extent he could be effective last season.
“The fact that he wanted to come back, prove to himself, to his team and to his coaches that he could come back from this injury and help our team,” Borrego said of the Spurs. “The credit goes to Tony in how hard he worked.”
Parker said there were no demands or expectations in his discussions with the Hornets regarding role after he played a career-low 19.5 minutes in 2017-18.
“They didn’t give me (assurances) on playing time,” said Parker, who turned 36 in May. “There’s the challenge in helping J.B. in that first job. I’m helping the team, I’m helping Kemba.”
Also, assisting Batum to re-establish his form. Batum’s key statistics were all down last season, in points (11.6), assists (5.5) and rebounds (3.8).
The Hornets made a massive investment in shooting guard-small forward Batum in the summer of 2016, signing him to a five-year, $120 million contract. Batum is still guaranteed about $75 million over the next three seasons, so it’s crucial for Borrego to figure out how to better utilize him going forward.
Parker noted he helped another former Charlotte player and Frenchman, Boris Diaw, win an NBA championship with the Spurs and won a gold medal for France at the 2013 Eurobasket tournament with Batum.
“He’s been a business partner and my little brother,” Parker said of Batum, seven years younger at 29. Like Parker, Batum came to the NBA as a teenager and first-round pick, debuting with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“Anything I can do (with Batum) is very appealing,” Parker added. “I hope I can get the best out of him next season.”