SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Tony Parker tried to walk to the team hotel elevators quietly on Monday en route to his room before being swarmed by smiling fans. They didn’t seem to mind that Parker’s numbers were down or that perhaps his All-Star days are behind him. And frankly, Parker doesn’t mind either.
“For sure they think it’s a down year,” the San Antonio Spurs point guard told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “But I think if you know basketball, all the people that really know basketball and the coaches and guys that pay attention to who makes the team go engine-wise, they know that I’m having one of my best seasons.”
Parker witnessed the passing of the Spurs’ torch from Hall of Famer David Robinson to Tim Duncan. Five years ago, Parker was honored to take the lead from Duncan with the blessing of coach Gregg Popovich. And now, in the next phase of the Spurs’ evolution, Parker has passed the torch to All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
“My first career I was behind Timmy and Manu [Ginobili] as the third option,” Parker, 33, said. “I was trying to get better as a player and a point guard. Then Pop gave me the key in 2011, and it was my team for four or five years. And now I’m back to being a third option [offensively], more of a distributor and more of a defender.
“It’s like a third career for me, but it is great. I love my role. As long as we win. You know on our team, ego, we don’t care about that. We just want to win a championship. If that’s what I have to do to win a championship, that’s what I do. I want to win the ring. Individually, I have plenty of accolades with All-Stars and All-NBA and stuff like that. It doesn’t really bother me because at the end of my career, what people will remember is how many rings I got.”
Parker was the Spurs’ leading scorer from 2011-14. With Leonard beginning to take over, Parker has battled injuries and his scoring started to dip last season, when the six-time All-Star averaged 14.4 points per game, his lowest output since his rookie season. Parker said he had an “easy conversation” with Popovich before the season, when he was asked to defer offensively to Leonard and Aldridge. The 15-year NBA veteran now averages 12.5 points in 26.9 minutes per game.
“Now it’s their team. They have to go, and ‘The Big Three’ [Duncan, Ginobili and Parker], we take a back seat,” Parker said.
Parker’s dip in scoring and minutes is deceiving, however. The 2007 NBA Finals MVP actually leads all NBA guards in field goal percentage (51.4). He is also shooting a career-high 42.9 percent from 3-point range. With Leonard missing the past two games because of a calf injury, Parker stepped up like old times. Popovich has also called this one of Parker’s best defensive seasons.
“I don’t take as many shots because I don’t have to,” Parker said. “Kawhi and LaMarcus are our No. 1 options now. But if somebody goes down, like Kawhi the past two games, I get more shots and I get 25 and 22 [points]. But if they’re both playing, I know I don’t have to [score].”
The Spurs (47-9) are off to the best start in franchise history, topping the 2010-11 team, which began 46-10.
Parker says this team could go down as the franchise’s best ever – with a title. But there is that little matter of the Golden State Warriors and their pursuit of the Chicago Bulls’ 1995-96 all-time regular-season record for wins at 72.
“We’ve had a lot of great years and this one is a historic one, like the best one in the history of the Spurs,” Parker said. “And nobody talks about it because Golden State is chasing history. It’s just unbelievable to have two teams with such a great record. Golden State deserves all the praise. They’ve been playing unbelievable.
“It’s hard to get 72 wins with the schedule and the back-to-back games, especially in the West with all the good teams. For us, we just focus on what we can do. It’s almost like Pop doesn’t care about our record. He is like, ‘Don’t look at the record. We have to beat Golden State, OKC and the Clippers, basically, to get to the Finals.”
The Warriors have a 3½-game lead over the Spurs in the Western Conference standings. Parker says it will be difficult for the Spurs to catch Golden State for the West’s top playoff seed and it's not exactly their goal. Yet he remembers all to well how the Warriors “kicked our butts” 120-90 on Jan. 25.
The Spurs and Warriors meet three more times during the regular-season. Although the Spurs’ ultimate goal of a title remains unchanged, they are ready for their next matchup with Golden State on March 19.
“Yeah. We care. We want to win a championship. You judge yourself to the defending champs. I can’t wait,” Parker said.
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