Parker becomes leader, Spurs better for it

The San Antonio Spurs await their next opponent (the Clippers lead the Grizzlies 3-2 and play again Friday night).  Regardless of the outcome of that series, Tony Parker will be matched up with a tougher match up than in round one.  Mike Conley’s speed and pesky defense neutralized Parker for the half of San Antonio’s first round series against the Grizzlies last April.  Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league, arguably the league’s most clutch performer and someone who won the individual battle with Parker in 2008 when the Spurs and Hornets played an epic seven game Western Conference Semi-finals series (though Parker and the Spurs won what mattered, the series).  Either way, for the Spurs to win the next round of the playoffs, Parker will need to exercise a personal demon from playoff’s past.

Fortunately, Parker is a better player this season then he was last season or in 2008.  Not only is he a better player, but he’s also turned himself in to a leader.  Recently, Ric Bucher wrote a piece for ESPN The Magazine outlining how Parker’s run with Team France last season contributed to Parker becoming more of a leader, but according to Parker, he’s been ready to lead for a little while now.

“With the national team, it’s always been my team,” Parker says. “I just tried to fit in here. Pop told me, ‘This year, you need to lead, and Timmy and Manu will follow.’ Only Pop could say that. I felt it was time too, but to me, it’s always been Timmy’s team.”

It’s still Tim Duncan’s team.  He’s the anchor, especially on defense, but Parker has the keys to the offense and he’s got the Spurs zipping through this bizarre, chaotic NBA season.  But next round will bring Parker’s biggest test yet.  He can’t disappear for two or three games and he can’t settle.  The good news is he’s owned Conley this season and above every other Spur seems to have taken what happened last year personal.  If the Grizzlies are able to come back against the Clippers, I think Parker will go in to full on revenge mode against Conley, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo and whoever else tries to guard him.

Paul is a different beast all together.  For starters, there’s no animosity and no revenge in mind for TP.  The one time they met in the playoffs the Spurs knocked the Hornets out on their home court.  If anything Paul will be the one looking for payback, which will make a Spurs-Clippers series even more fun and competitive.  He’s as smart as he is talented and no one guy should get discouraged when they can’t stop him.  Watching Parker and Paul go at each other for the next couple of weeks will be epic because of Paul’s all around brilliance and Parker’s maturing game, which produced his best season of his career.  It will mean Parker will have to summon his inner Paul, looking for several different ways to get his teammates involved on offense(something he’s done brilliantly all season long).

This is still Duncan’s team.  It will be Duncan’s team until he retires because of his iconic status.  However, the next few weeks could very well determine Parker’s legacy with the Spurs.  In 2003, 2005 and 2007 Parker didn’t have to be at his best for the Spurs to win titles.  They could ride Duncan’s dominance or turn to Manu Ginobili to you know, be Manu Ginobili.  Duncan can still dominate and Manu can still be Manu, but it’s Parker’s time to put a team on his back.  He’s done it all season long and thanks to a summer where he was the guy for Team France and some encouragement from Coach Pop, Tony Parker may be ready to take the leap and become a post season juggernaut.  We’ll know in a couple of weeks if that’s his destiny.

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