Anthony Parker: Anything but a Fifth Wheel for the Cleveland Cavaliers

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Anthony Parker: Anything but a Fifth Wheel for the Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Guess who has started every game for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season? 
 
No, it's not LeBron James.

Try Anthony Parker—the offseason acquisition who has been called upon to do more than expected—and has quietly delivered for the team with the best record in the NBA

In fact, Parker is the only member of the Cavs to have played in every game in the 2009-10 campaign.
 
Not bad for a guy who, earlier this decade, toiled for six seasons overseas, never knowing if he’d get a second chance at life in the NBA.

Parker signed with the Cavaliers last summer after spending three years in Toronto, where he averaged almost 12 points a game for the Raptors.

But it was his time in Europe that exposed him to big game pressure and boosted his confidence for a return to the NBA.

After three seasons as a part-time player with Philadelphia and Orlando, Parker played five seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv and one with Virtus Roma. In those six seasons, his team won three Euroleague championships, and Parker was twice honored as the league’s MVP.

“I went over there obviously with the intention of trying to get back to the NBA as soon as possible,” Parker said last July . “But once I got over there, it was a great experience. I had great support in Israel and it really gave me the opportunity to develop as a player.”

When the 6’6” Parker was signed by the Cavaliers, they were coming off of a disappointing loss to Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals—a series in which the Magic’s forwards torched Cleveland with their outside shooting.

Parker and Jamario Moon, his teammate in Toronto, were brought in specifically to counter that threat with their length and defense.

What Parker and the Cavs didn’t realize at the time was that he would be called upon to do much more.

That’s because the offseason was a difficult one for Delonte West, who had teamed with Mo Williams to give Cleveland an effective guard combo during their 66-win romp through the 2008-09 regular season. Over the summer West became entangled in legal issues related to a gun possession charge, and simultaneously struggled with depression and other emotional problems.

Coach Mike Brown inserted Parker into the starting lineup during the preseason, and he’s remained there ever since.

While Parker has not been a major cog in the Cavs offense—Brown flatly told the media Tuesday night that they don’t run any plays for him—he’s had several productive games and has regularly done the dirty work on defense, often matching up against an opposing team’s top scorer.

Case in point: Cleveland overcame a lackluster effort against Atlanta on Saturday to grind out a 93-88 win. Parker and West teamed with Mo Williams to hold Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford to 33 percent shooting (12-35) from the field.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when Parker starred at both ends of the floor. He played his best game as a Cavalier, contributing 18 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in a 113-101 win over the Raptors.

Brown was generous in his praise of Parker after the game. “I’ve been around this business since 1992, and he’s one of the best pros that I have been around. On the floor or off the floor, offensively, defensively, you name it. He’s a pro’s pro.”

Maybe that’s why Kobe Bryant, in a radio interview with Dan Patrick last October, pointed to Parker’s signing as one of the NBA’s key offseason moves.

“Anthony Parker to Cleveland, I think, is gonna be a big move for them,” Bryant told Patrick. “It’s always the glue guys. Those are the moves that win championships.”

Guys like Parker don’t get the headlines, but they get the job done. Think about it: How many players could handle the pressure of stepping into the lineup of a team expected to win the NBA championship, play an important yet secondary role, and not cause the team to miss a beat?

“I think we have a great team and a great chance at making a run, and we have some great players,” Parker said Tuesday night . “Wherever you can help out at is what your role on the team is.”

As Bryant said, it’s always the glue guys. If the Cavaliers are able to win it all this season, part of the credit—if none of the glory—should go to Anthony Parker, the offseason insurance policy who has paid bigger dividends than expected.

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