Parker, 33, is embracing the change.
"I understand my role is going to change, that's for sure," he said. "I don't need to score as much. I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi, you know, get them going. I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that Timmy changed [as the offense shifted] towards Manu, and then Manu changed [as the offense shifted] towards me is the same thing with me now. The last four or five years, it was my job to be aggressive and score. This year, it's totally different. This year, I have to be the engine in another way."
Parker cranked up a preview in San Antonio's victory over the Houston Rockets in the exhibition finale. Having led the Spurs in scoring in four of the past five seasons, Parker scored 12 points in almost 23 minutes on the floor and dished three of his five assists to Aldridge, who produced his best outing of the preseason, finishing with 19 pointso on 6-of-7 shooting.
"We have to put LaMarcus in rhythm, and he has to be the main guy with Kawhi," Parker said. "Everybody has to understand that. We have to play for them."
Before training camp, Parker spoke with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich about his changing role. But the transition could be seen last season, when Parker battled injuries and Leonard became the team's top scorer, averaging 16.5 points.
“This is more about people, then it is O’s and X’s; getting new people acclimated to the system, getting used to each other, how each other plays, shifting roles,” Popovich said Wednesday morning during the team’s shootaround at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “All those sorts of things are going on now more than ever before. So that’s really been our focus more than the O’s and the X’s. So it’ll take some time to pull all that together.”
“You just talk to them. You just go ahead and do it. You don’t hide anything. These are guys of high character. So I don’t have to do a whole lot of talking. They already understand probably what’s going to happen. ‘I’m probably going to throw the ball to LaMarcus a couple of times every game.’ So I think they already know that.”
Parker's 14th season with the Spurs was also the third straight in which he missed double-digit games with injuries. And his per-game averages of 14.4 points and 4.9 assists were his lowest since the 2001-02 season.
In the midst of a similar situation with a changing role, Duncan believes all the tweaks can prove beneficial for the entire team.
"As an individual, you have to try not to fight it," Duncan said. "We're all competitors, and we all want to do what we've always done. But you have to understand what's best for the team, and I think we're all here for that. So it's just about accepting that, finding your niche and your new role. You just have to kind of play through it, and know it's what's best for the team. Eventually, it's what's best for you, too."
While Duncan claims to have initially resisted the team's transition from him to Ginobili, Parker laughed at the notion and said he won't be doing it either.
"Timmy says that, but he didn't [resist]," Parker said. "He was so unselfish."
Parker said he knows if he duplicates the selflessness of Duncan and Ginobili, it could prove beneficial to the entire team. Parker needs to serve as the catalyst in helping Aldridge and Leonard to find a groove early in games. Once teams start to focus on stopping them, Parker should find easier shots, and so should Duncan and Danny Green, who lit up the Rockets in the preseason finale for six 3-pointers before finally missing a rushed shot as time expired in the first half.
Aldridge said he definitely noticed Parker was looking to get him going early against the Rockets.
"He came to me and said, 'My job is always to get you going, get you going in a good rhythm in a game,'" Aldridge said. "So I feel like last game, he definitely tried to do that. That's just naturally who he is. I understand that Tony's a big-time point guard and just wants to win. So I think that's just him."
But Parker said his lesser role won't change his aggressive mindset.
"Some nights, they're just gonna stay on the shooters, and I'm going to have to be aggressive," Parker said. "But overall, my role is not going to be the same. Me, I'm going to embrace it. I've already talked with Pop, and I'm gonna love that role. I'm going to try to do the best I can to [make sure] LaMarcus and Kawhi have the best year."
If he's successful, the Spurs could be in for a big year, too.