SAN ANTONIO – Tony Parker doesn't want this season to be his last with the Spurs.
That doesn't mean it won't be.
"I've said I want to stay in San Antonio. But if San Antonio doesn't want to keep me, I will understand," Parker said Monday. "But I definitely want to stay here."
That insistence won't quiet the biggest subplot in San Antonio this season. Tim Duncan says he doesn't know what Parker will do, Manu Ginobili is leaving the star point guard to make his own decision and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford is remaining tightlipped.
At 28, Parker has the longest NBA future still ahead among the Big Three, who have won three championships together since 2003. But on the eve of training camp, Parker sizes up this season as the last chance for this group to win a fourth.
"A lot of people think I'm saying that because of my contract year," Parker said. "But I really feel I'm saying that because of Timmy, not because of my contract. The NBA is a long season, and Timmy is 34, going to be 35. That's why I feel like this is our last chance to really win a championship."
Bleak as a post-Duncan era may sound for the Spurs, there will be one. Ginobili signed a three-year extension in April, swingman Richard Jefferson restructured a longer-term deal this summer and guard George Hill, who is 24, is a quickly emerging talent and favorite of coach Gregg Popovich.
Whether Parker, a former NBA Finals MVP who has spent his entire career in San Antonio, will be part of that future is unclear. Parker is in the last season of a six-year, $66 million contract, and was hobbled by injuries last year after coming off an All-Star season.
Last season, it was Ginobili who came to training camp with an expiring contract and no assurance that he would stay with the Spurs. Mindful of Ginobili's age and injury history, the Spurs questioned what the 33-year-old still had left until Ginobili erased those doubts with a spectacular second half.
But that doesn't mean Parker's situation is similar.
"As we did last year, we were in constant communication with Manu's people and I continue to have discussions with Tony's representatives," Buford said. "But I don't know that means that Tony will be here if he plays well or if he doesn't play well. He'll have the opportunity to make an impact in that decision as well."
Parker averaged 16 points last season; as an All-Star the year before, he led the Spurs with 22 points per game. He came off the bench throughout April after returning from a broken hand, but Popovich said Monday that Parker was a starter.
Duncan said he had no indication about what Parker will do.
"Obviously it's going to be a tough year all around with him with all the questions," Duncan said. "But we'll see what happens with him. I would hope he'd want to be here."
Parker said he spoke with Ginobili about how the Argentine handled his uncertain future last year, and also had a "great" conversation with Popovich, though declined to elaborate. Parker said that since he owns a basketball team in France, he understands the business considerations.
Ginobili said he'd happily call Parker and lobby the Spurs next summer if it came down to that, but that he'll otherwise leave Parker to make such a big decision on his own.
Parker says he's already made up his mind.
"I've said that plenty of times," Parker said about expressing his preference to stay in San Antonio. "But nobody listens to me. They don't care. They just want to create stories. It sells better."