Tim Duncan is the Window
On the one hand, the Spurs have 2010 cap flexibility and the ability to put the pieces in place for a competitive post-Duncan team. On the other hand, there is the allure of adding more banners to the legacy. Either direction holds the promise of good. The Spurs are pinned between the horns of a dilemma; they’re caught up in superlatives. Their internal debates are not between good and bad options; they debate between good, better, and best. It’s hard for some to stomach, but San Antonio refuses to go gently into the night.Â Â The Spurs annual ascent into theÂ league’s elite classÂ is underway, and the possibility of aÂ fifth championship looms large on the horizon. Pop and Buford are charged with mapping the path.
The chatter of expected decline has been lost to the Spurs once again this season.Â Tim Duncan, who apparently has nothing but deaf ears to rumors of his demise, is having a banner season. He won’t win the MVP award, but he’ll certainly be amongst the small band of players who receive votes. Duncan won MVPÂ in ’02 and ’03, back when he still played 40 minutes per game. His game averages from 01/02: 25.5 pts, 12.7 rbds, 3.7 ast, 2.5 blk per contest. The following season, his other MVP campaign, he posted a slightly less gaudy 23.3, 12.9, 3.9, and 2.9.Â That’s a sick line by any standard. But again, that was at 40 minutes per game.
Tim Duncan may be older, but he is more or less the same player he’s always been. I’m convinced that his type of game–which is based more on intelligence and fundamentals than athletic ability–will treat him well as he ages. This is not to say he won’t decline. He will, but at a slower rate than someone who’s dominance is predicated on superior athleticism. Duncan, for all his ability, has never been accused of that. Most of the things he does well, he’ll continue to do well until he retires. Put differently, he has blocked shots without leaving his feet for the last 6 or 7 seasons. Straight up, tree top. That bank shot of his doesn’t go in because of the vert on his jumper. It’s the smart angle. His 19 foot pick and pop is practically a set shot. He can do all those things just as easily at 36.
At 35 minutes a game, Duncan continues to fade into view. Rather than disappearing within the backdrop of age, he emerges in the foreground all full of life and vigor. Duncan’s numbers on the season–20.8, 10.5, 3.8, and 1.9–are off from his MVP numbers of six seasons past, but not by much, and especially when considering the adjustment in minutes. Tim Duncan remains the highest caliber player–he is the kind of player a GM can build around and more or less bank on multiple title runs. In the post Jordan era, this list would include Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Lebron James.Â Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade may someday qualify, but the jury is still out.Â Of Bryant, O’Neal, and Garnett, Duncan is the winningest. If you want titles, he’s the best player alive at getting them.
Notice who isn’t on the aforementioned list. Max contract players like Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki are worth every penny they earn, but they are destined to exist within that penultimate level of NBA dominance. They live in the place where Karl Malone and Charles Barkley live. It’s the level where talent and greatness flourish, but championship trophies are absent. Players like Bryant and Duncan soar in the highest atmosphere, they soar with MJ and Russel, with Bird, Magic, and Hakeem. There is greatness and there is greatness.
Why this, and why now?
The Spurs front office is currently deliberating their trade options. Those deliberations include the possibility of taking a talented player by way of someone else’s salary dump. Players like Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Kaman are on the tongues of those who have talked to those who can not be named. The question before the Spurs is this: is it worth killing future cap flexibility for a chance at an impact player now? What is the best way to manage the proverbial championship window? I’ve twisted in the wind on this subject, but, at least in my mind, I’ve arrived at a place of peace. The answer is clear.
Tim Duncan is the championship window. The Spurs will be in a position to win a title every season between now and the day Duncan retires. As soon as he retires, the window closes. So, it’s not so much a question about whether or not the Spurs can extend the championship window beyond Duncan. The question is whether the players available to the Spurs in 2010 are windows of their own.Â Assuming that James and Wade are not possibilities, the answer is no.
As the trade deadline approaches, I’m hopeful the Spurs will commit cap suicide. In death there is life. By adding one impact player, the Spurs vs. everyone else gets even odds. Not just this season. Now through 2012.