Arguably the greatest European floor general of all time, a six-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion, Tony Parker has already accomplished what most players only dream of since joining the San Antonio Spurs prior to the 2001-02 season.
Parker ranks first in Spurs history in career assists, fourth in points and fifth in steals, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the four greatest players in the proud franchise’s history.
Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And if anything, that cliche extends to even further to athletes.
Parker, hampered both by injuries and poor shooting, saw his role diminish with San Antonio to the point he lost his starting job to sophomore lead guard Dejounte Murray midway through 2017-18, and merely saw action for 13.3 minutes nightly in the playoffs.
Despite Parker’s struggles this past season, it’s still too soon to say the 36-year-old guard is finished. In a smaller, more game-specific role, he could still make a positive impact off the bench.
That’s why, when the future Hall-of-Famer hits unrestricted free agency this summer, he should still draw a decent amount of interest among teams with major aspirations.
A return to the Spurs is probably likeliest for Parker, but there are other outcomes that wouldn’t be too surprising either.
We break down Parker’s likeliest landing spots in free agency.
For a player with Parker’s level of experience, it’s only logical he would have strong relationships with different head coaches around the Association. For the six-time All-Star, one of those coaches is the new man in charge of the Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Budenholzer.
Before leading the Atlanta Hawks for five seasons, Budenholzer spent 17 years as a member of Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio, playing an integral part of the team’s four titles in that time span.
Obviously, after spending 11 years together in San Antonio, Parker knows Budenholzer well. Here is what the European point guard had to say about the Bucks head coach back in 2013, when he was first hired by Atlanta (via ESPN):
“Budenholzer has been extremely important to our success in San Antonio,” Spurs star point guard Tony Parker said. “He is a great coach. I think the Hawks made an excellent choice and I’m very happy for Coach Bud.”
Now, five years later, could we see a Budenholzer-Parker reunion take place?
Although the Bucks finished 2017-18 ranked seventh in offensive rating (with 107.8 points scored per 100 possessions), that was mostly due to the work put in by their starters. Their bench, on the other hand, ranked a mediocre 16th in the same metric (104.7). With a stronger reserve unit, it’s possible Milwaukee could break into the league’s five best offenses next season.
That’s where Parker could enter the picture.
With Eric Bledsoe manning the starting lead-guard spot, Malcolm Brogdon missing long chunks of the season due to a partially torn quad tendon and Matthew Dellavedova hindered by both injury and inconsistent play, the Bucks brought another point guard into the fold on Apr. 1 by signing Brandon Jennings.
The signing didn’t go great, as Jennings was out of the rotation almost immediately and saw action in less than five minutes of postseason play.
Simply put, as a third-string point guard option, Parker would surely be more effective than Jennings, both as a locker-room leader and as far as on-court production goes.
With a full summer of training as opposed to rehabbing, Parker should be able to regain some of his 2016-17 form, when he averaged 10.1 points and 4.5 assists nightly on 46.6 percent shooting. What’s more, a player with so much playoff experience could really help out what’s still a pretty young Milwaukee team, still trying to collectively turn the corner. Parker’s relationship with Budenholzer could also give the Bucks a leg up in recruiting the ball-handler this offseason.
However, because of how poorly his 2017-18 went, even a player with Parker’s pedigree cant’t expect a very rich contract, especially when one factors in how cap-space poor most teams are projected to be. Milwaukee, though, depending on what ends up happening with Jabari Parker’s impending restricted free agency, could have some cap room to use.
As far as estimating a potential deal between the two parties, a one-year, $5 million agreement seems pretty plausible. Landing Parker would give Budenholzer another option, along with Dellavedova, to back up Bledsoe and Brogdon, and provide the team with another respected voice in the locker room.
Another former Popovich assistant and current NBA head coach, Philadelphia 76ers lead shot-caller Brett Brown spent 12 seasons with San Antonio over two separate stints, and was a part of the Spurs’ staff for all four championships.
Another thing the Sixers have going for them in a potential chase for Parker’s signature is cap space, of which they’ve got a whole lot of. What percentage of it they’d actually be willing to give Parker is up for debate, but what’s unquestionable is that they could make the wealthiest offer of any team not named the Spurs.
With Ben Simmons and TJ McConnell as the two primary ball-handlers, Philadelphia could use a third player who can break down defenses, score in the paint and set up teammates for easy looks, especially when factoring in that no one knows what to expect out of Markelle Fultz next season.
That’s where Parker could enter the picture.
Due to his relationship with Brown, Parker could join the Sixers as someone who could help the team both on the floor and off of it, thanks to the guidance and leadership he could provide to McConnell and Fultz. Neither of Philadelphia’s two young guards boast much of an outside shot and both thrive hitting short mid-range jumpers; who better to mentor them on how to improve their impact than a player like Parker, who won Finals MVP in 2007 playing in the exact style both McConnell and Fultz are trying to master.
To get a deal done between Parker and the 76ers, the two sides could agree to a two-year, $15 million offer with a team option on Year-2.
Though even for one year, $7.5 million seems like a lot for an aging lead guard with dwindling athleticism like Parker, Philadelphia used the same overpay-for-one-year strategy to land JJ Redick (though his deal was worth $23 million for a season’s worth of service), and things worked out wonderfully between the two parties.
They could hope to have the same level of success with Parker, who, like Redick, could help both on the court and in the locker room as a veteran leader.
Despite the lack of a personal connection to the coaching staff, it’s not difficult to see why the Cleveland Cavaliers could be an interesting landing spot for Parker.
The main talking point regarding Cleveland’s 2018 playoff run, apart from LeBron James’ otherworldly form, has been about how lacking the four-time MVP’s supporting cast has been, particularly the bench.
Running backup point guard, Jordan Clarkson shot 30.1 percent in his first taste of postseason action, while essentially forgetting to do the one thing most floor generals are supposed to excel in: passing.
And the player he was backing up, George Hill, didn’t fare much better, averaging 9.8 points and 2.2 assists per contest in the playoffs.
Obviously, Cleveland could use an upgrade at the 1-spot heading into next season. (Unless LeBron leaves, in which case they’re going to need a whole lot more than that.)
Parker, despite his advanced age, could be a worthwhile gamble. He’s probably no longer at the point in his career where can be an every-game starter, but coming off the bench, he should still be able to do damage, especially with how much attention other teams are forced to pay James. After all, we’re merely two postseasons removed from Parker putting up 15.9 points and 3.1 assists nightly on 52.6 percent shooting for San Antonio over eight 2017 playoff games.
If he can improve upon his post-injury form, there’s no reason to believe Parker can’t do that anymore, at least in a limited role playing for a contender. And considering James’ preference for teaming up with experienced players (which will only be heightened after how the younger Cavs fared in the 2018 playoffs), he may see Parker as a smart addition to the Cleveland’s reserves.
Financially is where this potential union gets a bit tricky. Provided James either opts in to the final year of his deal or re-signs on a longer contract, the Cavaliers are projected to be nearly $20 million over the luxury tax line, meaning they’ll only have either the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.2 million) or the bi-annual exception ($3.3 million) to offer prospective free agents.
They could ask Parker to take part of the former (at his age, it’s doubtful Cleveland will want to give him their entire mid-level exception) or the entirety of the latter to try and entice him into signing.
Whether that’s enough to get a deal done remains to be seen, but without a doubt, even a 36-year-old Parker would be an upgrade over some of the bench pieces the Cavs have been forced to use this year.
San Antonio Spurs
In both a fiscal sense and emotionally, there won’t be a better landing spot for Parker than San Antonio. After spending 17 years with the club, winning four championships and essentially growing up as a member of the Spurs, it’ll be hard to see Parker going anywhere else before calling it a career.
And yet… comments made both by the French lead guard and Spurs higher-ups suggest this once-happy marriage could possibly come to an end this offseason.
Tony Parker: “It is not [a certainty] yet I will stay with the Spurs. I am open to all proposals. I would like to spent my entire career in San Antonio. I’ve been 17 years with the Spurs. I will always feel nostalgic, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I change teams”
San Antonio general manager RC Buford further stoked the fire a bit, by adding that Parker may need to take a potentially hefty pay cut if he does want to remain with the team (via ESPN):
“Parker, meanwhile, has made his intentions clear, saying he’d like to play 20 NBA seasons. But in Year 17, Parker’s potential return for 2018-19 hasn’t been determined as he becomes a free agent on July 1, when his contract expires. Buford told ESPN.com the Spurs will make a decision on Parker at the appropriate time, and it’s likely he will have to accept a contract worth significantly less than the $15.4 million he earned this season.”
So even though it’s almost a certainty both sides would like to see their union continue, it may not be the lock many wish it was. The fact Parker struggled so mightily last season after returning from a brutal torn patella injury certainly doesn’t help matters either.
Nevertheless, Parker has also publicly stated his preference would be a return to the Spurs.
And if he’s actually willing to accept an offer less rich than the ones he’s grown accustomed to, there shouldn’t be a problem making that happen.
BONUS: ASVEL Villeurbanne
If Parker and the Spurs can’t come to an agreement on the terms of his next contract, and if the future Hall-of-Famer doesn’t have a market outside of San Antonio (both unlikely), there is an outcome to his free agency that could surprise many but that also should maybe not be all that shocking, were it to happen.
Parker is the majority of a Pro A (French league) team called ASVEL Villeurbanne. During the 2011 lockout, he even suited up for them as a way to stay in game shape:
There’s recently been some scuttle regarding ASVEL moving from the Eurocup (the second-strongest international club competition overseas) to the Euroleague (where the titans of Europe face off every year). A move to Euroleague would be a cash cow for ASVEL, help expand the team’s brand and make the franchise a whole lot more valuable financially, which should be a particular interest to Parker, since, well, he owns the team.
To make Villeurbanne look more attractive to Euroleague decision-makers, having a former NBA legend suit up for the team he owns certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Regardless, the only way this would happen is if Parker’s market stateside ends up being weaker than expected, and even then, odds are, he’ll still be an NBA player in 2018-19.
But don’t completely count out a potential return to France, either, as it would have major ramifications for Parker, the Spurs and the team he owns a major stake in.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.