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The Spurs should re-sign Tony Parker

There are reasons for the Spurs to keep Parker that go beyond nostalgic attachment.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The thought of Tony Parker ending his career anywhere other than in San Antonio would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Now, it seems reasonable to have doubts about his place in the team’s future. Tony himself seems to have them:

“It is not yet sure that I’ll stay with the Spurs,” Parker said. “I am open to all proposals. I would like to make my entire career in San Antonio. The sport remains a business, and we will have to make choices.”

A parting of ways seems possible now, but should be considered far from inevitable. In fact, there are reasons why the Spurs should consider keeping Tony Parker that go beyond emotion.

Parker could have a mini bounce-back season despite his age

Parker was bad last season. He’s 36 years old and has a lot of miles on those legs. It’s understandable to think he has nothing more to give the Spurs. Yet it would be unfair to note Parker’s struggles and blame just his age and not the other circumstances that might have caused them.

Parker ruptured a quadriceps tendon in the 2017 playoffs. He was out almost seven months. The loss of his elite quickness predates the injury, but the long recovery explains his lack of touch on jumpers. Parker has traditionally been an above average mid-range shooter. His mastery of the pull-up catapulted him into stardom and kept him relevant. He never shot below 40 percent in the five years before last one. In three of those season he actually eclipsed 45 percent. Last season he only hit 38 percent of his mid-range shots. On wide open two-point field goals outside of 10 feet he shot below 50 percent for the first time since the NBA started recording those looks in 2013. Parker needs the threat of his mid-range jumper to set up the rest of his game. It was gone last season but, unlike his burst, it could return.

The role changes he experienced on an offense that didn’t suit him are also to blame for Parker looking completely lost at times last season. He either deferred too much or pulled the offense to himself unnecessarily as he tried to find his place in the offense. On a more defined role as bench floor general, however, he could be valuable. He’s showed the ability to get LaMarcus Aldridge the ball in a scoring position before and could, even without his former quickness, initiate earlier offense through his clever use of motion or ball screens. The days of regularly breaking down a defense off the dribble are gone, but Parker’s well honed floor game could help an offense which ranked 17th in the league last season become more fluid and less predictable. Even on a down year he led the Spurs in assists per game and hovered around his career averages in assists per 100 possessions. No other guard in the roster comes close to being the playmaker Parker is.

Last season Parker looked lost, which is understandable. He was returning from a huge injury, then had to adjust to a completely unfamiliar bench role alongside teammates he was not used to playing with. Now that he’s healthy and ready to go through a full training camp, he could realistically improve. If his jump shot returns and he gets to set up the offense instead of standing ignored by the defense in a corner, he could go from liability to asset.

The contract is not a huge issue (if Kawhi returns)

Even in this optimistic scenario, Parker would be a 15-minute a game backup that could see his role shrink or disappear in the playoffs. It’s understandable to be hesitant to commit resources to such a player, which the Spurs would have to do. Parker could technically decide to sign for the minimum, but that’s unlikely to happen. Despite his struggles last season, he could still get a relatively big short term contract. The Kings paid Vince Carter $8 million mostly to provide leadership last year. They might still be looking for another veteran next season. The same might apply to the 76ers if they whiff on their primary targets. An over the cap team looking for championship experience, like maybe Coach Bud’s Bucks, might throw the mid-level — or at least part of it — Parker’s way.

If Parker costs, say, the same $7 million Manu cost in 2013, it might seem unwise to keep him. In a vacuum, those resources would be best spent elsewhere. But because of the Spurs’ cap situation, what Parker ends up making could be all but irrelevant and keeping him could actually help the Spurs build better depth.

Assuming Kawhi Leonard remains on the roster or is traded not into cap space but for equal salary, the Spurs will likely be over the cap or close to it. They could theoretically carve out around $30 million in cap space, but Danny Green and Rudy Gay would have to opt out and be renounced, along with every other free agent, and Pau Gasol waived and his contract stretched. That’s unlikely to happen. One of those two — if not both -- will probably opt in or be re-signed. At least one of Bryn Forbes, Kyle Anderson and Davis Bertans is also probably coming back. If the Spurs act as an over the cap team, Parker’s contract for next season would be meaningless. Because they have Bird rights to him, the Spurs could offer whatever they want, going over the cap. As long as it’s a one-year deal or only partially guaranteed for 2019, they would also be able to preserve future flexibility.

Still, spending on a third point guard could be considered wasteful. Yet, even if Parker were to leave, the Spurs would have to get a veteran caretaker to navigate the regular season. Mills and Murray can play together, and should. Both at the team level and individually, those two perform significantly better when they share the court. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gregg Popovich turn to that two point guard lineup often, especially with the shooting guard position in flux. With that in mind, having a proven third lead guard who brings a completely different skill set to the table is a must. The Spurs could turn to free agency to get that player, but would have to dip into the mid-level exception to sign him. With Parker, they can just use his Bird rights and save the MLE for someone else, like an athletic big man or wing.

There might be a time to part ways with Parker, but it isn’t now

Parker has said over and over that he wants to play 20 seasons in the league. The next one would be his 18th. Even if his mid-range shot returns and his floor game remains an asset, it’s hard to see him being useful at age 39. If he wants to play past next year, he might have to find another franchise.

Right now, however, the Spurs should try to keep him. Even beyond the obvious emotional connection with the fanbase and the loyalty he’s earned — good enough reasons to re-sign him on their own — there are reasons to think he could still be useful if he regains his level in realistic ways.

As long as the Spurs hold off on rebuilding, it just makes sense to keep Parker for one more season.