MIAMI – As Tony Parker arrived at the podium for an interview session Wednesday in Miami, he crossed paths with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who was just departing.
Popovich made a joke, and Parker laughed.
A few years ago, that might not have happened.
Several summers ago, the Spurs were trying to sign Jason Kidd, which in some circles was incorrectly perceived as Popovich deciding that he no longer wanted to have Parker around. That couldn’t have been more wrong, since what the Spurs were actually thinking was that a veteran like Kidd would have been the perfect mentor for Parker as he was continuing to mature and learn the NBA game.
Kidd never joined San Antonio. Parker ended up just fine without him.
Even in a year in which Tim Duncan was able to turn back the clock and post one of the best seasons in his long career, Parker is probably the biggest reason why the Spurs are in the NBA Finals for the fifth time. And he’ll be the focal point of the Miami Heat defensive gameplan tonight, when the teams get together for Game 1 of the title series.
“It seemed to me that it would be a great move if we could get Jason to help mentor Tony,” Popovich said. “My illustrious NBA career ended after a week and a half. So what the hell am I going to teach him about being a point guard? … Tony did not love that idea at all. But we still tried to do it.”
Parker – one of four former Finals MVPs in the series, joining Duncan, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James – doesn’t need much help anymore.
He’s averaging 23 points and 7.2 assists in these playoffs, playing at even a higher level than he did during an outstanding regular season, and is coming off a Western Conference finals performance against Memphis in which he shot 26 for 43 and averaged 31.5 points in the Spurs’ two road wins that finished off a four-game sweep of the Grizzlies.
“Against Miami, it’s the last step,” Parker said. “It’s going to be the hardest one, because winning a championship is very hard. Especially against a very good team and LeBron, four-time MVP, it’s going to be really tough. But it’s a great opportunity for us to try to beat them.”
The Spurs love him, and the Heat rave about him, so much so that Miami may offer Parker what they would consider to be the ultimate compliment tonight.
They may have James guard him at times.
Mario Chalmers will start off against Parker, but if the Heat want a different look or if their starting point guard gets into foul trouble, Miami will not hesitate to give James a chance to guard the Spurs’ star.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Chalmers said of the assignment against Parker. “It’ll be a matchup with one of the great point guards in the game right now and it’s going to be my job to contain him.”
But the Spurs will be ready to see James standing in Parker’s way.
It’s not uncommon for teams to try to put someone bigger against Parker. The majority of the league does so fairly regularly. But it’s rare that someone 6-foot-8, 250 pounds and possessing the combination of size and speed goes up against a point guard.