Tony Parker spoke for just about everyone earlier this week when he walked into a crowded room wearing his new Charlotte Hornets uniform.
“It’s very strange, very weird,” Parker said. “I’ve got to get used to that color.”
It is indeed strange. Everyone is accustomed to seeing Parker in the black, silver and white of the San Antonio Spurs and here he was in teal.
Now the question is this: What are the Hornets going to do with him?
He’s not in Charlotte as a figurehead — Parker wants to make that clear. Parker, 36, bristled a little at his news conference Monday when asked if he might serve as an unofficial player-coach for the Hornets.
“I don’t like that name — player-coach,” Parker said. “No. I’m not a coach. I’m a player. And I can help.”
Parker played 17 years for San Antonio, winning four NBA championships. The Spurs went to the playoffs in all 17 of those years, and here’s the most amazing number about Parker that I found — the point guard has played in 226 NBA playoff games. That is the equivalent of almost three more full NBA seasons.
Kemba Walker, on the other hand, has played in 11 playoff games. Malik Monk has played in zero.
Parker is justifiably proud of his 17-for-17 playoff streak and knows it is in some jeopardy given that he just joined a team that missed the postseason each of the past two years. He laughed when he said he has told all of his Hornets teammates “don’t mess with my playoff streak.”
Parker will be Kemba Walker’s primary backup at point guard this season. It’s possible new coach James Borrego will use them together some in the fourth quarter, when scoring is at a premium and the Hornets could benefit from playing two driving guards together like they once did with Walker and Jeremy Lin.
‘All that is new for him’
Borrego was one of the reasons Parker took Charlotte’s two-year, $10-million contract offer in the offseason. Borrego was an assistant coach for the Spurs for 10 years, and the two men grew close. Parker trusts that Borrego has his best interests at heart, but also said he has received no assurances about playing time.
Borrego understands that there is some delicacy involved in coaching a likely basketball hall of famer who might not start a single game if Walker stays healthy.
“This is a guy who’s a six-time all-star, a four-time NBA champion, been in NBA for 17 years and he’s in a new environment,” Borrego said of Parker. “New head coach. New teammates. New locker room. New city. And now coming off the bench — all that is new for him. ... But Tony has bought into this role. That’s what give me comfort. This is not me trying to sell him on this role. He said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Parker also was attracted to the Hornets because of his close friendship with Nic Batum, a fellow Frenchman who has played alongside Parker for years on the French national team. If Parker can keep Batum engaged and aggressive, that will be a good start in earning his salary right there.
Obviously, the Hornets aren’t getting the Tony Parker who in 2007 was the NBA Finals MVP, or the Tony Parker who made the All-NBA second team every season from 2012-14. Parker suffered a major injury — a ruptured quadriceps tendon — during the playoffs in May 2017. He has gone through an extensive rehab process and mostly came off the bench last season with the Spurs, averaging a modest 7.7 points and 3.6 assists, both career lows.
So this will be Parker in the twilight of his career. Still, he could be valuable in a number of ways.
For instance, Parker is one of the few people who can actually tell Walker — clearly the Hornets’ best player — about the levels he still has yet to reach with a degree of authenticity.
“Kemba is ready to go to the next level, to perform, to find that happy middle between scoring and passing,” Parker said. “I was in the same spot when I first came in the league, a good scorer just like Kemba. But if you want to be a great point guard, you have to do both. ... He made the last two all-star teams. I told him, ‘All-stars is great — but it’s better to win and be all-NBA and go to the playoffs and have success in the playoffs.’”
Walker said he’s happy — and still somewhat astonished — that Parker has joined the Hornets.
“It’s still kind of surreal to me that we even have him,” Walker said. “I never thought he would leave San Antonio. So to have him here is special.”
What in particular could Walker learn from Parker? “I think his in-between game has been one of the best over the years,” Walker said, “and for me that’s probably where I’ve struggled the most. ... Floaters, runners, stuff like that.”
In the meantime, Parker will get his fair share of “old man” jokes. Monk, whose locker is next to Parker’s, likes to say that Parker has been in the NBA almost as long as Monk has been alive.
But Parker could be a missing ingredient for this team — if he can stay healthy and if he can raise the game of other key players. For now, he’s optimistic that his personal playoff streak will continue.
“As long as we play together and we share the ball,” Parker said, “I think we have a good chance.”