posted by Jeff Taylor 7:00 am
|Category: International basketball
PARKER TO STEP IN THE NBA
On Thursday, Toronto inked Anthony Parker to a contract believed to be worth $12million US dollars for three years.
Parker, 31, is American and was a first round draft pick out of Bradley back in 1997 but was used sparingly in Philadelpia for two years and set out to make a name for himself in Europe. He spent most of six seasons in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
What do we make of Parker's signing?
If Toronto are trying to load up their roster full of players from the European leagues and, specifically the Euroleague, they are doing a good job.
The club have signed number one pick Andrea Bargnani of Italy. He played at Benetton Treviso the past few campaigns.
Toronto also have Spanish international Jorge Garbajosa of Unicaja Malaga and now Parker, the leading light of Maccabi Tel and Euroleague MVP in each of the past two seasons.
Last year, Toronto signed Garbajosa's compatriot, Jose Manuel Calderon, a point guard who had been with Tau Ceramica.
Before picking Bargnani and getting Garbajosa and Parker, the Raptors appointed Benetton Treviso's long-time general manager Maurizio Gherardini, as their vice president and assistant GM to Bryan Colangelo. We need to give this a name. We'll call the process `European-ising an NBA team.'
We have to wonder how important that shot that Parker made with less than a second remaining to lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to a 105-103 exhibition game victory at Toronto must have been last year.
It was an NBA pre-season game, but it capped a terrific 24-point night for Parker, the best American player in Europe the past six years. If Toronto were interested then, he certainly didn't give them any reason that night not to be interested.
The result reconfirmed what most people in the know have been saying about top level European basketball and bottom of the pile NBA hoops.
The best teams in Europe - Maccabi are certainly one of these - can not only compete with but defeat the worst teams in the NBA.
More significantly for scouts and Toronto was that after that game, Parker returned to Europe and had another amazing campaign. He garnered MVP honours for the second season on the trot in the Euroleague as Maccabi reached the final before falling to CSKA Moscow.
So Parker goes to the NBA, just as Maccabi's Sarunas Jasikevicius went last season.
There will not be much weeping and gnashing of teeth in Tel Aviv. Parker has had a good run and he deserves a chance to play in the NBA. I think everyone will be happy for him. Besides, it tells European youngsters they can make it in the NBA as well. If Sara and now Parker can do it, why can't they?
What is Parker going to discover in Toronto?
Number one, he will not be the men in the spotlight. That will be Chris Bosh, and number one draft pick Andrea Bargnani.
What else will he discover? Parker will see that hockey is numero uno in Canada.
Parker will also find he has a Major League Baseball team closer to hand than he did in Tel Aviv - the Blue Jays. You simply must love that aspect to the move for Parker who must have played some shortstop in his day. Can't you see Parker and Gherardini sitting in the stands at Blue Jays games eating a hotdog?
What he will discover immediately is that in Toronto, basketball fans are not as fanatical as Israel.
Speaking of fans ...
No basketball fans are like those in Israel. The only ones that come close are Greek basketball supporters. They are intense when they follow the national team - witness Belgrade last year when they won the gold medal.
Panathinaikos and Olympiacos always have big support.
Maccabi, though, well, their fans are at a different level. Parker will remember when he played in 2001 with Maccabi in Paris at the SuproLeague Final Four how that event ended.
It was a terrific weekend, certainly the best I've been to.
Andrei Kirilenko was playing with CSKA Moscow - his last season before heading to the NBA. Panathinaikos and Efes Pilsen were also there. There was a real buzz of excitement at the Bercy Arena. There was also a water hose that was sprayed on fans during the Pana/Efes game because, officials feared, things were beginning to get out of hand.
Maccabi came from behind to beat CSKA in their semi-final with Nate Huffman and Parker having big games, and they beat Panathinaikos in the final. What I remember most is that before that title game had even finished, the Maccabi fans were jumping out of the stands, onto the press tables and running onto the floor. My feeling at the time was, `Wow, this is incredible.'
It was not the safest of occasions, though. Fortunately, no one got hurt. I also remember the organisers, FIBA, being none too pleased about the situation as they could not present the trophy on the court to Maccabi afterward.
So, Parker, I bet in 10 years when you are retired and begin to reflect on your career, you will remember Maccabi fondly because of the fans.
There are a couple of more things, one about this `European-isation of Toronto'. Surely, at some point in the not-too-distant future, Ettore Messina is going to get a phone call and be asked to come and interview for the head coaching job.
He should have been in the NBA a while ago. Messina, an Italian, is flat out the best coach in Europe and it stands to reason he will get a chance to coach in the NBA, particularly with Gherardini in Toronto.
What Messina did last season at CSKA Moscow with the injuries, and the way he was able to focus on his job while at the same time deal with the horrible situation around his son who became seriously ill in Prague and had to go to the hospital, I think he's amazing.
No one, myself included, gave Messina a chance of leading CSKA past Maccabi in the final, particularly after the way Maccabi destroyed Tau Ceramica in the semi-final.
He got a big game from Theo Papaloukas and David Vanterpool, and CSKA set the tone early down low where Maccabi were supposed to have an advantage. Savrasenko, the CSKA center and Russian international, had the game of his life in that final for CSKA. In fact, Matjaz Smodis wasn't too bad, either.
Why Messina? He's found success with Virtus Bologna, with Benetton Treviso (see the connection with Gherardini) and most recently CSKA, whom Messina also led to the Superleague title and Russian Cup. He also won a EuroBasket silver medal as coach of Italy's national team. And, this is crucial, he is fluent in English.
I can't help but remember some Fortitudo Bologna fans in Prague in April who traveled to watch the Final Four, even though their team wasn't involved. They did not rate Messina highly, saying he always has good players. I don't believe that for a minute. Messina, as Virtus coach, would not have been a favourite of Fortitudo fans.
At the risk of sounding too much like Dick Vitale, I've got one one other thought while on the subject of Messina. Papaloukas. Talk about a winner? This guy is incredible. He did not look out of place against Team USA's NBA players at the Athens Olympics. A tall point guard, Papaloukas was the inspiration behind Greece's comeback win against France at last year's EuroBasket.
I genuinely believe this guy could be an NBA player. Some team should give this guy tryout. Theo, dude, you get a high five from me for the past couple of seasons! Bring back the gold this summer from Japan to Greece! (oh no, I am sounding like Dickie V - help me!!!!)