Tony Parker always has said he wants to complete 20 NBA seasons, preferably with the Spurs, before he retires. Parker might reach that milestone, but it won’t be exclusively with the Silver and Black.
After 17 seasons with the Spurs, the only team he’s played for during his NBA career, Parker has signed with the Charlotte Hornets for $10 million over two years, as first reported by Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.
He'll join former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego, who took over as head coach of the Hornets in May.
The Spurs wanted Parker back but Parker decided to take a deal to join the Hornets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Parker, who turned 36 in May, reportedly called head coach Gregg Popovich shortly before the news broke to inform him of his decision to leave San Antonio.
"Tough decision. Tough three days. Tough communicating it all to Pop," Parker told The Undefeated's Marc Spears on Friday.. "But I had to move on. It was a very emotional conversation with Pop and (Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford. I will always love San Antonio. I will always be a Spur."
Parker, the longest-tenured player on the Spurs’ roster last season, became the team’s starting point guard as a 19-year-old rookie in 2001. He held the spot until he was supplanted by Dejounte Murray this January.
"It's difficult to put into words how important Tony Parker has been to the Spurs franchise over the past two decades," Popovich said in a statement Friday. "From his first game, TP has impressed and inspired us — day after day, game after game, season after season — with his passion, dedication and desire. We are grateful to Tony for 17 years of truly amazing memories."
Parker won four NBA championships with the Silver and Black and was MVP of the 2007 finals. A six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA pick, he was a member of the Spurs’ famed “Big Three,” teaming with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to win more games than any other trio in NBA history during their 14 seasons together.
With Duncan retired and Parker bound for Charlotte, Ginobili remains as the last of the Big Three. He is under contract with the Spurs for $2.5 million this season, but hasn't given any indication on whether he plans to return for what would be his 17th season with San Antonio.
In an interview with RMC Sports in May , Parker talked about the uncertainty of his status with San Antonio.
“It is not yet sure that I’ll stay with the Spurs,” he said. “I am open to all proposals. I would like to make my entire career in San Antonio. The sport remains a business, and we will have to make choices. I have been 17 years with the Spurs. I would always be nostalgic, but it’s not the end of the world if I change my club.
“I do not see myself outside of basketball yet. I want to stay three more years to do the 20 seasons.”
Parker said late in the season he would be OK with returning to the Spurs this season in a backup role. He played in 55 games last season, averaging 19.5 minutes, 7.7 points, 3.6 assists and 1.7 rebounds – all career lows.
A lock for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Parker averaged 31.1 minutes, 15.8 points, 5.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds in his 17 seasons with the Spurs. He leaves the Silver and Black as their all-time assist leader with 6,892.
Knocked out of the 2017 playoffs by a career-threatening injury, Parker missed the first 19 games of the 2017-18 season before making his debut in a home win over Dallas on Nov. 27.
Parker hadn't played in a game since rupturing a quadriceps tendon in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last May 3. He had surgery two days later and started a grueling rehab regimen shortly thereafter. Parker wasn’t expected to return to the lineup until January, but he defied the odds and made it back two months sooner.
Seven months after sustaining the worst injury of his career, Parker returned to the AT&T Center, where he was injured, and received a warm welcome from fans.
"I felt great," Parker said. "It's hard to describe that feeling, but I was just very excited and just wanted to thank everybody for all the support. The city of San Antonio has been amazing, all the fans, the Spurs organization. It was just a great journey, just a great game tonight."
Parker played 14 minutes and finished with six points on 3-of-7 shooting, dished out four assists and didn't have a turnover. His first basket was vintage Parker: a drive to the basket, a pump fake in the paint and a point-blank bank shot for two points.
Parker had started the previous 21 games he had played since returning from the injury of his left quadriceps before he was replaced in the lineup by Murray, shortly before the Spurs hosted Indiana on Jan. 21. Parker told reporters later that Popovich met with him before the game and told him he thought the time had come to start somebody else at point guard.
It couldn’t have been easy for Parker to hear he would be coming off the bench. After all, Parker had gotten the starting nod in all but 14 of 1,165 regular-season games, 21 counting the playoffs, at that point.
Parker already had played pro basketball for two seasons in France when the Spurs selected him with the 28th overall pick of the 2001 NBA draft. Parker faced a steep learning curve as a rookie despite his pro experience in Europe.
Popovich rode Parker hard in those early days, but Parker never broke. He adapted to Pop’s coaching and learned the NBA game. Boy, did he learn it. He became the team’s starting point guard in the fifth game of his rookie season and steadily became one of the league’s best players at the position.
Parker took Murray under his wing after the Spurs selected him with the 29th overall pick of the 2016 draft. Parker worked with Murray closely, teaching him the nuances of the point-guard position.
From all accounts, Parker handled Popovich's decision to replace him in the starting lineup with his characteristic class and aplomb. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Parker's stellar career through the years. A consummate team player, Parker has played a key role in helping cultivate the culture that has made the Spurs a model franchise in pro sports for 20 years.
“Tony understands what’s best for a basketball team,” Popovich said. “He’s a character guy. He knows that at this stage of his career being a mentor is really important, and he’s still going to be an important part of what we do. But Dejounte is a young talent, and we need to find out exactly what we have there, so it’s time.
“Those are the decisions you make. I made the same decision a few years back when Tony was 19, and we gave him the ball. Tony’s handled it fantastically well, and has been just a really mature, high-character individual.”
On Friday, Popovich's reflections on Parker's career went beyond the game.
"While the four championships, six All-Star appearances and four All-NBA selections highlight his resume, the biggest joy for me has been to have the pleasure of watching TP grow up before our eyes," Popovich said in the statement. "All of us in the Spurs organization will miss having Tony in our program, and wish him and his family the best as he continues his remarkable career in Charlotte."