Tony Parker has always been one of the San Antonio Spurs’ best players. When he was drafted by the Spurs in 2001 he was one of their three or four best players since Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott were on their way towards retirement. When he won his first NBA championship in 2003, despite his age and because Manu Ginobili was so inexperienced as an NBA player, Parker might’ve been the Spurs second best player despite being its most inconsistent (the fact that the Spurs won the title that year speaks to Duncan’s greatness as much as anything else). Ginobili soon leap frogged him as the team’s second best player, but since 2004, the Spurs have been geared around Tim Duncan Ginobili and Parker.
Luckily for the Spurs and their fans, there’s never been any internal strife between Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. It was always Duncan’s team, until it was clear it needed to be someone else’s team. Then it was Ginobili, who took the reigns during the 2011 season. That didn’t work out as well as the Spurs would’ve liked (not Manu’s fault, just the way the chips fell with his injury and the Girzzlies being the Grizzlies at the of the season). Then a couple of things happened. First Parker became this hyper aggressive player and great leader for Team France, leading them to their first Olympic birth since 2000. Then early in the season, Ginobili (who was playing exceptionally well) broke his hand and after that there was no question who was getting the keys to the Spurs offense.
Fast forward to this week. Parker, coming off his best season in the league, is preparing Team France for the Olympics. Parker talked with L’Equipe Magazine about his transition to the Spurs’ leader on the floor. Parker referenced the strife between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant as the reason it took coach Gregg Popovich telling Parker to become more of a leader on the court for him to actually step up.
“I am a very respectful and I would never have made war on Duncan like Kobe with Shaq,” Parker said. “I respect the hierarchy and, if Pop decides that Duncan is the star, I stay in my place. The day Pop told me: “It’s your team,” I immediately felt comfortable to be the boss, as in the France team.”
Good play by Parker though I don’t think Shaq and Duncan have a ton of personality traits in common. I don’t think this particular Spurs group is capable of serious argument or disagreement, but I always assumed any awkwardness would come from Parker and Ginobili simply out of not knowing who should take the lead in the offense because it had been Duncan’s for so long. It seems as though that issue has solved itself. The Spurs have their offensive spark plug to start a game in Parker, their second burst of offense to lead the bench (Ginobili) and the steadiness of Duncan throughout the game. I think the end of the game has always been Manu’s time and it will continue to be next season, but Parker’s leadership on offense can only help the Spurs moving forward.