NEW YORK • The first high-profile defection from the San Antonio Spurs this National Basketball Association (NBA) off-season was not disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard but instead their long-serving point guard Tony Parker.
After playing a key role in four of San Antonio's five championship teams, the 36-year-old is joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. He has agreed to a two-year deal worth US$10 million (S$13.6 million), according to multiple reports - choosing that option over remaining with the Spurs at a lower salary.
News began to spread on Friday when his long-time France team-mate and soon-to-be Hornets team-mate Nicolas Batum sent out a welcome-to-Charlotte message on Twitter, saying "See you soon in Buzz City my big bro".
The impact of Parker's move on Leonard, who has attracted interest from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia and Boston in recent weeks remains to be seen. But anyone in San Antonio holding out hope the Spurs can still repair their fractured relationship with Leonard will perhaps see Parker's departure as a boost.
Among the developments that had rankled Leonard most was Parker's late-season assertion that his own quadriceps injury suffered during last year's play-offs was "100 times worse" than the quadriceps issues that limited Leonard to nine games last season.
"I have no problem with Kawhi Leonard," Parker told website The Undefeated. "We never had an argument. It's very sad that the media took one quote and made it sound like I didn't want to play with him."
As for leaving San Antonio and coach Gregg Popovich after 17 seasons, Parker said "he will always be a Spur" and added: "Tough decision. Tough three days. Tough communicating it all to Pop. But I had to move on."
Parker is expected to back up Hornets guard Kemba Walker and said he was "excited to play for my idol", referring to the Charlotte owner Michael Jordan.