The first high-profile defection from the San Antonio Spurs this off-season was not the disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard but instead their long-serving point guard Tony Parker.
After playing a key role on four of San Antonio’s five championship teams, Parker, 36, is joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency on a reported two-year deal worth $10 million — choosing that option over remaining with the Spurs at a lower salary.
News of Parker’s departure began to spread Friday afternoon when his longtime teammate on the French national team and soon-to-be Hornets teammate Nicolas Batum sent out on Twitter a welcome-to-Charlotte message, saying “see you soon in Buzz City my big bro.”
The impact of Parker’s departure on the Leonard saga remains to be seen, but anyone in San Antonio holding out hope that the Spurs can still repair their badly fractured relationship with their best player will perhaps see Parker’s departure as a potential boost. Among the developments that had rankled Leonard most this past year was Parker’s late-season assertion that his own quadriceps injury suffered during the 2017 playoffs was “100 times worse” than the quadriceps issues that limited Leonard to nine games in 2017-18.
In Charlotte, Parker will be reunited with the former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego, who was recently hired as the Hornets’ new head coach. Parker is a six-time All-Star and is expected to back up Hornets guard Kemba Walker.
Parker lost his starting spot in San Antonio last season to the up-and-coming Dejounte Murray but ranks as one of the most accomplished players in Spurs history — highlighted by his N.B.A. finals Most Valuable Player performance in 2007.
Parker was immediately installed as a starter by Coach Gregg Popovich after the Spurs made the then-teenager the 28th overall pick in the 2001 draft.
San Antonio won championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007 with Parker at the point — and again in 2014. But Parker’s first few seasons were bumpy, prompting the Spurs to try to sign Jason Kidd away from the New Jersey Nets in the summer of 2003 to replace Parker after the teams met in the finals.
Kidd elected to stay with the Nets, and Parker only continued to improve after the initial disappointment of San Antonio’s flirtation with the future Hall of Famer. Parker’s run as a Spur ultimately spanned 17 seasons, almost all of them beside his fellow franchise legends Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Duncan, 42, retired after the 2015-16 season. Ginobili, who turns 41 on July 28, has not yet ruled out returning to the Spurs next season.
As for Leonard, San Antonio has fielded numerous trade inquiries from interested teams in recent weeks, with both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers — as well as Philadelphia and Boston — leading the chase.
The Times reported last week that San Antonio is ready to move on from Leonard if a palatable trade offer materializes this off-season, realizing that its hopes of repairing the relationship with Leonard have been dwindling. A recent face-to-face meeting between Leonard and San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich appears to have done little to dampen Leonard’s desire to move on, despite the fact San Antonio is the only team in the league eligible to offer Leonard a “supermax” extension worth nearly $220 million.