New voice in Hor­nets’ ear? Parker leads with di­rec­tives

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY RICK BON­NELL

rbon­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

When four-time NBA cham­pion Tony Parker signed with the Char­lotte Hor­nets, coach James Bor­rego told Parker he was em­pow­ered to lead.

More im­por­tantly, Bor­rego told every­one else on the Hor­nets ros­ter of that em­pow­er­ment.

So in that first train­ing camp prac­tice in Chapel Hill, when Parker im­me­di­ately started di­rect­ing traf­fic, cor­rect­ing ex­e­cu­tion, hold­ing brand-new team­mates ac­count­able, play­ers lis­tened and con­formed.

“It’s like hav­ing a sec­ond coach, but with a jersey on,” guard Malik Monk said of Parker’s pres­ence. “He is go­ing to put you in the right spots. Tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. Tell you what he thinks you should be do­ing

“He knows what spots you are go­ing to be in be­fore you even know it. That man knows his game of bas­ket­ball!”

Of course he does. Parker spent his first 17 NBA sea­sons with the San An­to­nio Spurs, a model fran­chise. He won four cham­pi­onships with the Spurs and was named Most Valu­able Player of the 2007 NBA Fi­nals.

He’s 36 years old, but his play this sea­son — av­er­ag­ing 9.6 points and 4.5 as­sists as Kemba Walker’s backup — demon­strates he is here for far more than cer­e­mo­nial rea­sons. As Parker said the day be­fore train­ing camp, he didn’t come to Char­lotte to be a coach on the bench.

Fel­low French­man Nic Ba­tum lob­bied for the Hor­nets to sign Parker last sum­mer, mak­ing the ar­gu­ment that the Hor­nets needed a vet­eran with both the cred­i­bil­ity and blunt per­son­al­ity to hold team­mates ac­count­able.

Asked how he pre­pared the play­ers for Parker’s force­ful pres­ence, Bor­rego de­scribed it this way: “We’re bring­ing in a cham­pion and he’s go­ing to have a voice. Take ad­van­tage of what you have in-house. You may never play again with an NBA cham­pion, a Hall-ofFamer.”

It took one game for Parker to wield that sway.

In the Hor­nets’ sea­sonopen­ing loss to the Mil­wau­kee Bucks, the starters played a lack­adaisi­cal first quar­ter. After a team film ses­sion the next day, Parker asked Ba­tum, Walker and Bor­rego to stay be­hind.

That’s when Parker pointed out that his ex­pec­ta­tions

hadn’t been met.

He made his point.: The next night, the Hor­nets won in Or­lando by 32.

FIND­ING A VOICE

There’s a per­cep­tion, fair or un­fair, that the French can be laid-back to a fault. The com­mon French term “lais­sez­faire” is de­fined as an ap­proach to life of “let­ting things take their own course.”

Parker couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from that. The word those who have known him for decades fre­quently use to de­scribe Parker is “di­rect.”

“I think if you know me and you know my body of work and my rep­u­ta­tion, you know that it is pure,” Parker told the Ob­server. “The only thing I want is for (team­mates in Char­lotte) is to get bet­ter. I have no se­cret agenda for my­self, es­pe­cially at this stage in my ca­reer.”

His early bas­ket­ball in­flu­ences re­in­forced his direct­ness. Parker was 19 when the Spurs se­lected him late in the first round of the 2001 draft. He was sur­rounded by strong per­son­al­i­ties: Tim Dun­can, Manu Gi­no­bili and coach Gregg Popovich. It was a cul­ture where blunt­ness wasn’t just tol­er­ated, it was cel­e­brated.

“He has a unique way about his mes­sage and the way he talks to peo­ple that is great,” said Mil­wau­kee Bucks coach Mike Bu­den­holzer, a former Spurs as­sis­tant. “He can im­part a ton of wis­dom on what it takes to win at a high level.

“I would say it’s un­com­mon,” Bu­den­holzer said of Parker’s way. “As much as we want play­ers to hold each other ac­count­able, and for there to be lead­er­ship in the locker room ... even a lot of great lead­ers do it in a dif­fer­ent way that isn’t so di­rect.

“There is a lot of direct­ness there, and it has served Tony well.”

An ex­am­ple: Parker has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about the French na­tional team per­form­ing well. One game, when he was ex­celling but the team was trail­ing, he let every­one know with one ges­ture he de­manded more from them and was con­fi­dent they would de­liver..

“It was the semi­fi­nals of Eurobas­ket and we were down 15 at half­time. Tony had car­ried us all first half,” Ba­tum re­called. “He said, ‘Coach, don’t even call a play for me. Guys, you are go­ing to do it for me.’” The re­sult? “We won,” Ba­tum said, nod­ding about the Parker Ef­fect.

PICK­ING HIS SPOTS

If you’ve been to a Hor­nets game this sea­son, you’ve prob­a­bly seen from a dis­tance one of Parker’s an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tions with team­mates.

It’s of­ten with the younger guys — Monk, cen­ter Willy Her­nan­gomez or rookie point guard Devonte Gra­ham — but not ex­clu­sively. There was a mo­ment caught on a game tele­cast early this sea­son when Parker was cor­rect­ing a de­fen­sive switch by sev­enth-sea­son pro Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Parker tries to be sur­gi­cal about it, to give in­put with­out be­ing a nag such that it could dull his mes­sage

“Nat­u­rally,” Parker said of his in­ter­ac­tions. “I try not to do it too much and go straight to the point.

“Try to be help­ful, but not (cor­rect) ev­ery day. Just try to pick my mo­ments when it’s most needed.”

Ba­tum said team video re­views are when Parker can of­ten add the most value beyond what he pro­vides on the court.

“Tony will say, ‘Freeze (the video).’ When some­body is do­ing some­thing wrong, he doesn’t say, “Don’t do this!’ He says, “Why did you do this? What were you think­ing to make that mis­take?’

“He is help­ing you cor­rect it. That’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach (from just scold­ing). He’s ask­ing a ques­tion to get you to think about it.”

Parker took charge even be­fore the Hor­nets be­gan train­ing camp. Ev­ery NBA team holds in­for­mal scrim­mages in the month lead­ing up to camp. The first time Parker played in one in Char­lotte, it took him two min­utes to light into a team­mate.

It was Ba­tum, who wel­comed that. It sent a mes­sage to all the Hor­nets that if Parker would im­me­di­ately poke at buddy “Nico,” then no one else should mind.

“Some­times he can be re­ally harsh, but I think ev­ery­body un­der­stands it’s not per­sonal,” Ba­tum con­cluded.

“If he has some­thing to say to you, he’s go­ing to go straight at you. He tells you how he feels.”

Rick Bon­nell: 704-358-5129, @rick­_bon­nell

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