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Tony Parker Is Moving On, and Soon, the Spurs Will Be Unrecognizable

One of the longest-tenured players in the NBA is leaving the one team he has ever played for. Does this have anything to do with San Antonio’s unresolved standoff with Kawhi Leonard?

Tony Parker Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Tony Parker made his Spurs debut on October 30, 2001, exactly one week before the series premiere of 24 and one week after Steve Jobs introduced the iPod. Seemingly everything about the world has changed 10 times over since then, but Parker’s union with the Spurs remained one of the few constants. He spent 17 years with the team, the sixth-longest tenure with a single team in NBA history among players who had only played for one team, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, John Stockton, Tim Duncan, and Reggie Miller. Parker’s off the board now, and so, too, is the Parker era in San Antonio. Parker signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, leaving 40-year-old Manu Ginobili as the lone remaining member of the Spurs trio that counterbalanced superstar squads from the Shaqobe Lakers through the Miami Heatles.

Parker finishes his Spurs career with four NBA titles, including a Finals MVP, and the most hilariously photoshopped video game cover in sports history. He told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears that he turned down offers from San Antonio and Denver to go to Charlotte. The Hornets have also been rumored to be shopping starting point guard Kemba Walker. If Walker stays, Parker is in line for a “significant role” as the backup point guard for the Hornets.

Parker used to (literally) dribble circles around his opponents, but the last few years he has looked like an iPod Classic competing in a league of iPhone Xs. It’s only gotten worse since he ruptured his left quadriceps tendon in May 2017. That injury cost him the first 19 games of the 2017-18 season and sapped some of his remaining explosiveness. Last season he played just 55 games with 21 starts and averaged 19.5 minutes per game, all career lows. In those games, he had his lowest effective field goal percentage (.472) since his rookie season.

There were reasons for the Spurs and Parker to separate beyond Parker’s individual play. Parker’s departure could be one last play for San Antonio to repair relationships between the team and franchise player Kawhi Leonard. In March, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Spurs held a players-only meeting “quarterbacked” by Parker in which teammates implored Leonard to return to the team from the quadriceps injury that limited him to just nine games last season. Leonard declined to return, saying he still wasn’t healthy. A few days later, Parker said that his quadriceps injury was “100 times worse” than Leonard’s injury. According to Wojnarowski, Parker’s words were “the last straw,” for Leonard, who skipped the Spurs’ playoff games but was spotted attending a Dodgers baseball game a few days after the Spurs’ season ended.

Parker told The Undefeated his words were taken out of context.

Whether Parker’s departure means anything in the Spurs’ ongoing debacle with Leonard remains to be seen, but it was a move that made sense for both San Antonio and Parker regardless. Should Leonard be dealt for talent and assets (perhaps in a deal headlined by the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram), the Spurs won’t have to worry about distributing minutes between a washed franchise icon and any young player who may be the Spurs’ future ball handler.

None of this will be much consolation for Spurs fans, who have witnessed the modern model of NBA stability collapse in less than a year. As always, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich found the right words for the moment.

Au revoir, Tony.