Time For Parker To Settle For Some R&R?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Nobody’s telling Tony Parker to knit berets from a rocking chair for three months. But in light of this week’s second international knee scare and a cross-your-fingers MRI, perhaps it is time for some summer R&R for the All-NBA point guard.

Parker has nobly led his countrymen as team captain of the French national team since 2003 and has represented his country on the senior level since 2002, and on the junior level since 1997 (when he was 16).

Parker, 31, has a career’s worth of bumps, bruises, twists, strains and sprains that rivals the number of countries he’s competed in. His latest scare came days ago in an exhibition game preparing for next week’s FIBA European Championships. The details from the French national team were vague, but for a second time during the run-up to the tournament, Parker did something to his right knee that didn’t feel good.

The MRI came back negative and Parker declared he will be 100 percent for France’s opener against Germany. Germany’s star, Dirk Nowitzki, is forsaking the tourney to have more time to manage his right knee that required surgery last October. That doesn’t mean the game will be a cakewalk for Parker’s club — which includes Portland’s Nicolas Batum and Spurs teammates Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo. Overall, this French team is one devoid of NBA veterans, including Joakim Noah, a wounded warrior much of last season, and key cogs Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf.

No one could have blamed Parker had he graciously bowed out of the FIBA tourney considering he missed 16 games last season, scared the bejesus out of coach Gregg Popovich two weeks before the playoffs and gutted through a Grade 1 hamstring strain in the final four games of The Finals.

But when it comes to the French National team, there is no stopping Tony. He delivered France its first medal in 50 years in the 2005 European Championship and got them to the finals for the first time in 2011, followed by a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

And speaking of the Olympics, in a recent overseas interview, Parker said he plans to play for France through the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. At that point, he’ll be 34 and coming off a 15th NBA season.

It leads to one question with no defined answer: With meaningful international tournaments staged around the globe each summer, when, if ever, does loyalty to one’s NBA team supersede loyalty to country? The Spurs have paid Parker $95 million over 12 seasons and will pay him $12.5 million more this season.

Parker is the irreplaceable driving force behind the Spurs as Tim Duncan, 37, and Manu Ginobili, 36, hit their twilight years. Ginobili, a fixture on the Argentinian national team, is not playing in the FIBA Americas Championship after dealing with frustrating injuries last season.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been the loudest critic among NBA owners of international competition. He bemoans that NBA teams assume all the risk when their handsomely paid players suit up for their countries. Cuban saw once-promising guard Rodrigue Beaubois, a Parker protege, break his foot during a French national team practice several years ago. Requiring two surgeries, Beaubois never bounced back, is no longer with Dallas and remains unsigned.

Two months after winning the 2011 NBA championship, Nowitzki led an inexperienced German national team into the European Championships pushing for a second consecutive OIympic bid. Germany failed to advance and Nowitzki started the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a bothersome right knee he pinned on the additional physical toll of playing that summer: “Playing in the Euros, looking back now, was obviously not the right decision, but it was a decision I made for my country,” Nowitzki said in January 2012.

Interestingly, Mavs rookie guard Gal Mekel, a star for the Israeli national team, told his coach in late July that he would not play in the European Championship. Israeli coach Arik Shivek said the Mavs strong-armed Mekel to pull out.

Even if Parker breezes through the Euro championships without another nick, the additional wear-and-tear on his body after another long season has to be concerning to the Spurs and their fans (who have seen this play out with Ginobili). A number of NBA players, some of whom dealt with health issues last season, decided to sit this summer out, with the Lakers’ Pau Gasol (Spain) and the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter (Brazil) among them.

The Spurs have signed and drafted numerous international players. The current roster boasts nine foreign players from six countries, not including Duncan, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Six are currently playing internationally.

But there’s only one Parker. And with training camp opening in less than five weeks, all of San Antonio waits stateside with bated breath. Because nobody wants to watch Parker knitting berets from the Spurs’ bench.

8 Comments

  1. el latigo says:

    This is a difficult thing to understand for American people, but sports is not just about dollars. It’s not all about business. Everywhere in the world, players can go to their NT without much complaining from their season team. This is true for basketball, and almost every other sport. Every champion is proud to represent his country. I’d say it’s better to represent your country in a sports competition than in war, at least no one dies here.
    I know the mark Cuban line about paying people to get injured, but never forget that Tony learnt to play the game in France, and was ready to play when he set foot in San Antonio. He became what he is now because he is a hard worker, and found a coach who could understand all of this. You have to know that the French NT coach is also a great coach, and works in collaboration with coach Pop.
    If we French people seem to be complaining about everything, if we seem not to be proud enough of our country, if our soccer NT is a permanent tragi-comic show, we can be proud of what our basketball players do. Boris, Tony and the rest of the team love the game and their country first. Dollars is not what they run after…

  2. Chris walworth says:

    I’m from the U.S. and this article mentions nothing about U.S. players not playing on the U.S. team. International players come here to play a game they love for the same money as U.S. players. For a lot of them English is a second or third language and they come and play in a country that can be openly hostile towards theirs. Their not slaves, the money they get paid is no more then their talents require and if international players didn’t play in the Olympics the U.S. would have even less competition then there is now.

  3. Thierry says:

    nba owners know european players have fiba competitions ( usa players too). If they don’t accept this risk, they have to buy only usa players.

  4. J says:

    get some rest

  5. potzo says:

    When it comes to USA basketball camp all the US journalists are excited because it’s nice to play for your own country. But when NBA players want to play for their own country it’s always a problem if they are from Europe or Argentina or another country.

    I think TP loves his country as much as Kevin Durant does. He doesn’t live or play in France but he is french and proud to represent his country.

    And i guess Popovich said yes if he hadn’t Parker would have stayed home.

    I’m pretty sure all the players are insured.

    • Marco29 says:

      Well said. French BB federation is paying high insurances for its NBA players.
      Parker is highky motivated to play for his country and win a title which is the only trophee he is missing. Unforntunately, not all players have the same motivation. On this side of the Atlantic, many people have a hard time understanding that heathly NBA players are deciding not to play or a retained by their franchises. Spurs and Pop agreed to let Parker play and are in close cooperation with the French team as far as TP’s health goes (he had to fly back to SA one time before for the medical staff to check on a minor injury during a preparation camp).
      French team has the opportunity to finally win a title during Parker’s era along with his fellow NBA colleagues.
      Remember France is the most represented nation in the NBA with 12 players in 2013 + 2 who got drafted.
      Imagine what the team would look like with everybody on board: Parker, Batum, Noah, Diaw, De Colo and also Mahimi, Seraphin, Bobois (if healthy), Fournier, Petro, Turiaf and Pietrus.

    • Ismael says:

      Insurance doesn’t get an injured player off the bench and into a game any quicker after injury. It didn’t magically heal his hammy for the finals. Yeah there’s a bit of a double standard when U.S. players play for USA, but who’s paying them? Americans from the USA. Americans from the USA don’t want their American dollars going overseas and burning themselves. They aren’t paying them to do that. They’re paying them to bring them championships.