Tony Parker has already provided so many things the Charlotte Hornets need: talent, precision, poise, leadership, guts.
Calm tops the list. What he represents is the diametric opposite of what Hornets backup point guards have been the past two seasons, and that’s among the top reasons the Hornets are 4-4 following a 125-113 home victory over the Miami Heat.
There was no bigger hole in the Hornets’ rotation than Kemba Walker’s backup. Whether it was Ramon Sessions, Brian Roberts or Michael Carter-Williams, they were too old or too hurt or too psychically damaged. So when Parker reached out to his former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, James Borrego, about playing for the Hornets, it was the best day of the off-season.
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Maybe several off seasons, Hornets-wise.
Borrego was in San Antonio for 10 of Parker’s 17 seasons there. He appreciates all the knowledge Parker brings. As Borrego said to me after his post-game news conference: “Things that can’t be taught.”
It’s radiating out of him. Parker was great on the court Tuesday - 24 points and 11 assists in 25 minutes - and kept contributing when the game wasn’t going on. During a stoppage of play in the first half, he walked over to backup center Willy Hernangomez, who wasn’t even playing at the time, to express a finer point of basketball.
“A quick teaching class,” Hernangomez described, without going into further detail.
A lot of that goes on. Even two-time All-Star Walker, the NBA’s second-leading scorer this season, said his only concern about Parker as a teammate was that the 36-year-old Frenchman would get exhausted from all the questions Walker asks.
It’s cool, Parker joked. Whenever he gets tired of playing mentor, he can always start speaking French to end a conversation.
Borrego raised the point about Parker’s calming influence in his post-game remarks.
“I think his poise, his demeanor, his pace, it just calms everybody down,” Borrego said. “People find the right spots. They’re in rhythm. It’s not helter-skelter.
“He’s been doing this for 17 years. This is a pro at the highest level in big competitions. He’s not fazed out there.”
It’s been way too long since you could say the Hornets’ backup point guard isn’t fazed. I asked fellow Frenchman Nic Batum, who helped sell Parker on signing in Charlotte, to describe the value of that.
“When we sometimes go through a little run (by the other team), he’ll just take the ball and tell Kemba to move to the two spot (shooting guard) and we get some good shots,” said Batum, who finished Tuesday with 20 points and seven rebounds.
You will seldom see a player in basketball or any sport who performs with more precision and purpose. Whether it’s a dribble, a turn of the head or a look 50 feet down court, no motion is random. It’s the collective knowledge derived from four championship runs.
Parker sees what he’s doing now in Charlotte as a pay-it-forward for the good fortune of being drafted into an organization with David Robinson, Tim Duncan and more.
“I was very lucky to have great vets on my team when I started: Steve Kerr, Terry Porter, Malik Rose, Kevin Willis, obviously David Robinson,” Parker said.
“They taught me the game and how to be patient. I want to do the same thing here.”
That’s when he talked about “calm.”
“The thing that I loved about the Spurs is we were always calm,” Parker said.
“It didn’t matter the stage, we were going to execute the details. We won a lot of games in the last three or four minutes. We’re trying to bring the same thing to the Hornets.”
The management challenge for Borrego is getting the best out of Parker without burning him out the first half of this season. Tuesday he played a season-high 25 minutes. That followed Saturday in Philadelphia when Borrego chose to make Parker inactive rather than use him one night after he played 19 minutes against the Chicago Bulls.
Borrego indicated Parker wasn’t entirely OK with being inactive against the 76ers, but Parker said he has faith in Borrego to do the right thing in balancing impact with rest.
“It helped a lot tonight because after three days (between games) I had fresh legs,” Parker said. “I understand the big picture and I trust J.B.’s judgment. It’s just my competitive” nature.
“I don’t want to miss too many games, but I understand that I’m 36 and have to manage my body even if I’m feeling good and healthy.”
A couple of lockers away, longtime friend Batum offered context.
“He’s 36,” Batum said, “but he’s still got his legs.”
Legs and knowledge and skill.
And calm. With Tony Parker, its always about calm.