Are San Antonio Spurs Beginning Long-Term Tony Parker Maintenance Plan Already?

Garrett JochnauCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2014

MEMPHIS, TN - JANUARY 7: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 7, 2014 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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As a superstar in the unique San Antonio Spurs system, Tony Parker will constantly pay a price that most alpha dogs never have to worry about.

On a veteran team, where health is of utmost concern, Parker has never enjoyed consistent MVP-caliber playing time, something that has deflated his statistics a bit, while also causing frustration on occasion.

This season, the team's primary catalyst is averaging just over 31 minutes per game, making him the least-played individual ranking in the top 35 in scoring. In comparison to fellow All-Stars across the league—for example, Stephen Curry is averaging just under 38 minutes per night—Parker, though still at the apex of his prime, is rather underplayed considering his abilities.

But he's not the first Spur to undergo this cautionary measure; each of Spurs' current veterans has watched his minutes dwindle as the years ticked by, most notably Tim Duncan who—despite habitually performing in an age-defying manner—rides the pine far more than others with his value. 

At 31, Parker is now in the midst of his own playing-time decline. Whether or not this increased vigilance is necessary, however, has been widely debated. 


Parker's Role Thus Far

SAN ANTONIO, TX - January 15: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center on January 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or
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Even with less playing time than the common superstar, Parker has maintained the highest average on the team. Part of his relatively low court time is simply the consequence of having a deep bench and a coach who happily allocates respectable playing time to anyone not named Nando de Colo.

Also true is that Parker has never received substantial playing time, at least when compared to the near-40 minutes that Duncan averaged during the opening years of his career.

However, Parker bloomed later than Duncan, and his recent conservation of energy has, without a doubt, been a result of Gregg Popovich's understanding that rest ultimately lengthens careers and prevents recurring injuries.

So, now that he has entered the upper echelon of NBA talents, Parker is being tabbed as a player who would undoubtedly receive more playing time in any other system.

After posting back-to-back MVP-caliber campaigns in 2011-12 and 2012-13, the Spurs' offensive leader has reprised his role with a number of dazzling performances and respectable stat lines.

Even with less court time than other stars, Parker has enjoyed a heavy workload, carrying the team over stretches as a scorer and as a distributor. He drives more often than every other player, excluding Monta Ellis, and has traveled more miles per 48 minutes than anybody who averages over 25 minutes over more than 20 games.

Constantly playing in the highest gear, Parker has remained healthy due to Popovich's diligence, and has avoided the breakdown that might otherwise occur.

In short, Parker's playing time might be misleading. Though players like Curry might be out there for longer, Parker is certainly breaking a sweat during the 31 minutes in which he plays.

He certainly deserves rest, as it is essential for his health going forward.


Can the Spurs Afford to Rest Him?

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 19: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs in a game against the Golden State Warriors on December 19, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
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Though nearly everybody will agree that rest is a good thing for an aging player, the question that presents itself is whether or not Parker's limited playing time is preventing the team from reaching its potential.

Considering that the Spurs just became the first team to notch 30 wins, I'd say it's a safe bet that his rest is doing more good than harm.

But, breaking it down a bit more, the team's ability to rest Parker stems from two things—an abundance of talent and explicit priorities.

If Parker was manning the reins of, say, the Milwaukee Bucks, then it might be necessary for him to play around 40 minutes per game.

But, on the Spurs, where a deep pool of guards provides proper insurance, while the team's collection of other stars ensures that there's always plenty of starpower, Parker can be rested without the team experiencing any adverse effects.

But even when the team is struggling—I'd be willing to place my money that they hit a rut sometime towards the end of the season—Parker will continually be played casually, if not less than he is now, due to the team's focus on preserving health for the playoffs. 

Just as they did last season, the Spurs will likely place team health above seeding implications down the stretch, which also allows them to rest him.

The truth of the matter is that the Spurs will make the playoffs, and—as long as the team is healthy—they'll be able to make a run regardless of what seed they capture.

When they begin fighting for a championship, Parker's minutes will increase—just as Duncan's did last season. Until then, though, Parker can rely on his backups Patty Mills and Cory Joseph to assist him in preserving his energy until it becomes necessary to go all out. 


Going Forward

SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 4: Kawhi Leonard #2 talks with Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the AT&T Center on February 4, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
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Currently, Parker is in the beginning steps of the "preservation" process. 

He's still the face of the franchise, making it difficult to truly lighten his heavy workload. However, the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a future star will eventually allow Parker to pass the torch, just as Duncan did to him once his career had reached the latter stages.

However, even in the coming years when the Spurs finally anoint Leonard as the top dog, Parker will remain relevant—just as Duncan has done for so long.

Always thinking with a long-term plan in mind, Popovich's diligence will prove to be essential in keeping Parker healthy even as his fellow All-Stars begin their decline.

And, having already declared that his overseas play will last just one more Olympics, Parker appears to be on board as well.

Now it's a matter of ensuring that the blocks around him remain sturdy enough to support him. With Duncan and Manu Ginobili likely retiring in the next few years, Parker will be left with Leonard and a cast of role players—as well as a new coach, since Popovich too is watching the final years of his career tick by.

Even in the hands of a new coach, though, Parker's minutes should be closely monitored for the rest of his career.

The current superstar is in line to have a strong, long career, and as long as the Spurs can benefit without having to give him superstar playing time, they should maintain their focus on prioritizing the health of the man who will lead the Spurs into the franchise's next era.