Tony Parker is attentive, well-mannered, charming and young, with a beguiling tear-drop floater and better-than-average jump shot. When he gives you that Belgian-waffle smile and speaks with that syrupy French accent, you just want to hug him and then head to Denny's for breakfast.
I only bring this up because I've heard arguments to the contrary, and the subject is sure to be hot fodder if there's a Nets-Spurs final. The very notion makes my ears bleed, watching Parker repeatedly sort-of-kind-of run a high pick-and-roll that does nothing other than reduce the shot clock to 12 seconds while Kidd produces an easy shot for himself or a teammate on nearly every possession.
Or seeing Nick Van Exel almost grinning as he spins past Parker to the hoop, while Kidd is locking up Chauncey Billups so hard coach Rick Carlisle played his second-leading scorer only 18 minutes in Game 3. It's no secret the Nets would prefer facing the Spurs over the Mavs, one reason being Steve Nash gives them far more problems than Parker.
To Parker's credit, he's only 21. As the 28th pick in the 2001 draft, he has proved to be a tremendous discovery. If the Spurs were content in simply being a playoff team, he's good enough, alongside Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, to get them there every year.
But if it's a perennial championship contender they're building, Parker simply isn't the answer. He is, at best, a slightly smaller, hopefully less injury-prone Kevin Johnson. That made the Suns very good for many years, but it never made them the best.
Most of the who-needs-Kidd talk sprung up after Parker looked like a star attacking the Lakers' soft pick-and-roll defense. Forgotten, in a blink, was how the Spurs almost didn't meet the Lakers because of Parker's ineffectiveness against Stephon Marbury in the first round. (Billups, should the Pistons make a wondrous comeback, would have his way with Parker in similar fashion.)
Also forgotten was that Mike Bibby landed an $80 million contract, a place on the 2004 Olympic team and inspired vicious innuendo that he was among the league's top five point guards poking holes in that same Lakers' D. "We've made a lot of guys money," joked Lakers guard Brian Shaw. Now, of course, there's uncertainty that he's even the best point guard on his team. Bibby's contract could create a cap squeeze that, unless the team-owning Maloofs build another casino, could eventually cost the Kings some of their depth.
Even if the Spurs don't get Kidd -- though, rest assured, that is their first priority -- they are well aware of Parker's limitations. Coach Gregg Popovich tried for a season and a a half to make Parker into a bona-fide playmaker and finally realized that was a round-peg, square-hole exercise.
He is a decent fastbreak threat when the Spurs get out quickly, good enough to get the ball in to Duncan when they don't, and gutsy enough to take and make an open shot off a high screen. But for every time he does any of that, he also dribbles into a baseline trap or whips a blind fastbreak-the-other-way pass over his head and is forced into a hope-it-hits-the-rim prayer as the shot clock is winding down.
When the Mavs get back to stop San Antonio's fast break and use their zone or double teams to swarm Duncan, the Spurs' offense petrifies. The reason becomes obvious when Popovich then brings in Ginobili to initiate the offense -- in part, granted, because Manu's four-inch height advantage over Parker allows him to survey the far side of the floor. Suddenly, three pointers are falling from the weak side, Duncan is getting back-door layups, and the Mavs' rotations look a day late and a dollar short.
"He just understands how to play," says Duncan of Ginobili. "Just to have that basketball mind on the court is so comforting."
None of this, of course, is to say Parker and Kidd can't be on the same team. All the negatives about Parker as a starter become huge positives as a change-of-pace point guard off the bench. He'd also be terrific as a spot-up 1, the same way the Bulls used John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong and Steve Kerr, or the way San Antonio has used Parker with Ginobili against Dallas.
"I love that role," Ginobili says. "Sometimes we don't make the extra pass, and my role here is to do what the team needs. That's what I've been taught to do."
AND ONES: During the Lakers-Spurs series, the game operations did one of those Kiss-Me routines, putting a couple on the scoreboard screen and goading them into a smooch. When the camera turned on Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas and a female companion -- they clearly didn't recognize him -- Arenas licked his friend's face instead. Sources insist it's that sort of off-kilter behavior, combined with poor practice habits, that have convinced Denver not to pursue him on the free-agent market this summer. ... While he hasn't been interviewed yet, Kings GM and former Blazers official Geoff Petrie is supposedly high on Blazers owner Paul Allen's list of candidates to replace Bob Whitsitt. Petrie didn't leave Portland on the best of terms so some fence-mending would be necessary to get him back.