Do the Spurs really want three to five more years of Tim Duncan?

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tim-duncan-spurs-san-antonio

(Photo credit: Geoff Livingston)

While the last month has seen the FIBA Eurobasket and Americas Championships whet our appetite for competitive basketball, our offseason is still lacking a dearth of player movement. The only transactions completed during the lockout are those that come in the ranks of coaches and staff, and frankly, that’s not exciting. Before the lockout kicked into effect in June, Mike Brungardt, the longtime San Antonio Spurs Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, retired. A few weeks ago, his post was filled by Matt Herring, former strength and conditioning coach with the University of Florida men’s basketball team and Florida’s men’s and women’s golf teams.

While it should take some time for the switch to be noticed, Herring already has some goals with the Spurs. Jeff McDonald of the Express-News had a tidbit on how Herring wants to squeeze three to five more years out of Tim Duncan’s career:

Herring might not arrive in San Antonio with players to coach, but he does arrive with goals. One of them: He hopes to help Tim Duncan add years to the tail end of his career.

“You can have a positive impact on a guy like Tim Duncan and helping him get three, four, five more years out of his career and end on his terms,’’ Herring, formerly of the University of Florida, tells GatorZone.com.

If Herring can really help Duncan discover the Fountain of Youth, it would make him the Spurs’ most important addition since perhaps Duncan himself. At age 35, Duncan is clearly slowing down.

I can’t find that quote on the GatorZone post that Jeff linked, but let’s discuss it anyway. Is it really in the Spurs’ best interests that they get three to five more years out of Tim Duncan? Duncan is an institution in San Antonio, so he’s allowed to stay as long as he wants. But long term, it is probably better for the Spurs if Duncan retires sooner rather than later.

When we talk of aging big men, two players come to mind for me: Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. Patrick Ewing retired at the age of 39 in 2002 with the Orlando Magic. He averaged six points and four rebounds in about 13 minutes per game in that final season. The Dream also retired in 2002 at the age of 39. Olajuwon finished his career with the Toronto Raptors averaging seven points and four-and-a-half rebounds in 22 minutes per game. These were both two Hall of Famers who went out with a whimper on teams their legacies had no ties to.

Personally, I don’t want to see Duncan do the same. Tim Duncan was able to maintain a consistent level of output, statistically, through his career. It was only the last two seasons where his numbers dropped significantly. As today’s NBA has evolved, greater emphasis has been placed on perimeter scoring. The hand checking rules allow players easier avenues to the hoop. This has made drive-and-kick the focus of many NBA offenses, including the Spurs. Duncan’s 13.4 points per game last season were by far the lowest of his career.

Feeding Duncan in the post is now an option reserved primarily for a change of pace or to settle the team when things get frantic. In a regular season win against the Dallas Mavericks back in December, the Spurs went to Duncan in the post several times in a row in the third quarter to take control of the pace. While Duncan’s back-to-the-basket game is still strong, San Antonio cannot rely on going to Duncan in the post for possession after possession. Being the primary offensive option is a exhausting responsibility. The Spurs rely on Duncan to be their defensive backbone and they’d rather him expend his energy on the defensive end of the floor.

Duncan may be a top-notch defensive quarterback for the Spurs, however his foot speed is nowhere near what it used to be. Being the vocal back line of the defense is an important role for the Spurs, but San Antonio needs someone who can successfully defend the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, an ability that passed Duncan by several season ago.

There are also financial implications to keeping Tim Duncan around. Duncan is due over $21 million for next season, assuming the NBA plays a full season. If they don’t, Tim Duncan gets a prorated portion of that $21 million. After next season, his contract expires and he’ll be a free agent. Duncan will likely take a smaller salary than the max contract he’s been playing under if he re-signs, but how much smaller? Generally, veterans are paid much more than they’re worth later in their careers. Part of that is because they’re typically underpaid when playing under their rookie contracts. Another reason is their skills tend to diminish as they get past their peak while their yearly salary increases. Regardless of what Duncan signs for next season, the chances are great that he’ll be signing a contract that pays him more than what his on-court production would be.

In the NBA, defense tends to be underpaid. The Spurs could more efficiently use the money that would go to Duncan to sign a couple of big men who can rebound and defend the pick-and-roll. Doing so would likely give the Spurs more bang for their buck. With scorers like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still under contract, protecting the rim is more of a premium than scoring.

Another few seasons of Tim Duncan would also slow the Spurs’ rebuilding process. San Antonio was fortunate twice to bottom out and end up with the top overall draft pick, netting Duncan and David Robinson before him. The NBA is a star-driven league and it’s practically impossible to win an NBA championship without one. Duncan — and even Manu Ginobili — sticking around after his contract expires could keep the Spurs in purgatory-like level of barely making the playoffs while failing to secure a high draft pick. As has become obvious over the years, San Antonio is not a top destination for high-level free agents as Tim Duncan has declined. If the Spurs want to grab another star, they’ll need to do so through the draft. And if Duncan is around to prevent the Spurs from hitting bottom, the chances of them striking oil are slim.

The Spurs can’t put a dollar figure on the effect Tim Duncan made on the franchise since the team drafted him in 1997. He delivered the organization its first championship in 1999 and three more for good measure, all while helping the small market Spurs remain competitive, relevant and profitable. No one will ask Tim Duncan to leave, as they shouldn’t. He’s earned the right to put on his #21 jersey for as long as he likes, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the best interests of the franchise for him to do so.

  • marcos4303

    It depends on how you define “the best interest of the franchise”, there are many components to it, and for more than 12 years Duncan meant it all.

  • Anonymous

    Duncan should probably consider taking some sort of pay cut to bring in someone that can help via free agency.  His numbers are dropping, and at some point, he’s going to have to assume a role like Robinson did when Duncan came in.  I just don’t think there’s another Duncan out there, so this team is going to look substantially different, regardless of how all this plays out.

  • idahospur

    I’d like to see him get 5 rings, and he’s smart enough to know when he is a burden on the team. Hopefully get him to cut his pay (which he would probably do, if union rules allow), and move towards Splitter or a future PF take over the majority of work. D-Rob settled into a second banana role to win titles, wouldn’t Duncan do the same as his mentor?

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  • Ryan McShane

    Totally agree. Dream situation: Duncan re-signs for the veteran minimum and the Spurs pick up Howard. He’s and the team are made for each other basketball-wise, it’s just a matter of the Spurs being able to woo him (or Otis Smith) better than any other team (not something we can count on like Lakers fans can).

  • tdbestspur

    Duncan has already taken a secondary role to the perimeter “stars”; Tony and Manu. The difference is this, David Robinson stepped aside for a bonafide star in Duncan, whereas when Duncan stepped aside there wasn’t anyone capable of taking over. Some reliable big man help, plus hard-nosed perimeter players are needed, if Duncan is to stay. Otherwise, trading Duncan may be best for Duncan’s chances of winning another title.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Thanks, Andrew. Interesting as usual.

    Not sure if I agree that Ewing and especially Olajuwon are good comparisons, as their games were more based on athleticism than Duncan’s (at least initially–both obviously transitioned over several years into a more cerebral game). I think a better comparison, for both his game and his mind, is Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Jabbar took on a more limited role with the Lakers after the early 80s and yet was still very effective for a very long time.

    Of course, Jabbar was longer than Duncan and played in an era when players were a little smaller (about an inch on average), so he needed less quickness and athleticism. Additionally, all those years of yoga, tai-chi, martial arts, and dietary care allowed him to extend the youthfulness of his game an unusually long time. But in any case I think Kareem represents a realistic best-case scenario to look at.

    (BTW, can we get somebody to introduce Kareem, Steve Nash, or John Stockton to Kawhi Leonard and any other young talents who come along? The kind of approach to life, training, and basketball that those two guys took can add about five productive years to the end of your career.)

  • Bry

    After Tim’s gone, this era is gone. I think people get so obsessed with rebuilding that they start to look down the road way too early. Getting lucky in the draft is… just that; getting lucky. Team’s often take years to rebuild until they finally get lucky in the draft. Look at the empty years of Chicago after Jordan, New York after their run a decade ago, Philly after Iverson, or Utah and Washington now (and those are the teams that have been ‘sucesses’). Even when a franchise does luck out, they may still be a poor or mediocre team. That is why you should appreciate your great players while they are still playing the game. The Spurs should keep Duncan in San Antonio for as long as he can walk up and down the court. The guy has no history of demanding huge money, so he’ll get paid less as he gets older. Even if he’s over-paid by a couple of million; is that a huge problem? What’s more likely to cripple this franchise, slightly overpaying a couple of veterans for their last couple of seasons here, or dumping players too early hoping to get lucky with draft picks or FA’s? The Spurs will have a good chance to lock Duncan down for the rest of his career here next season. They could give him a 3-4 year deal with an added player option at the end. They’d be wise to make the year salaries a flat-rate, or have it descending so that you don’t end up with that last annoying ‘way overpaid’ year at the end. I’m thinking a four year deal descending from 10 to 6 million per year, and then a final player-option year at 5-6 million. That would keep him here, pay him what he likely deserves, and keep the respect of the player and the franchise. The last I checked Tim Duncan was still far and away the best defensive player on the Spurs and the best post-player on the Spurs. Let him finish his career with honor.

  • LA spurs fan

    spurs will have plenty of time to hit rock bottom after duncan retires now or in 5 years.  Spurs may never ever get a player like him again. 

    Duncan’s numbers have gone down but much of that is Pop’s active decision to run more of the offense through the guards and the penetrate/kick out plays for offense.
    Timmeh can probably still go for double doubles each game but winning would be another matter. As long as he can contribute, Tim gets a pass on how long he wishes to play or “till the wheels come off.”

  • Bry

    I agree. There are a ton of examples where impatient and disloyal front-offices dump a guy when he still has talent in their rush to mediocrity. Just look at Kidd and Nash, and how many years they have been quality starters after they were dumped. And those are point guards, rather than 6’11” big men. The Spurs front office has been one of the best in major sports, so I would be shocked and probably traumatized if they dumped the best PF in history, who brought them four titles, in the moronic pursuit of speeding up the rebuilding process by a year or two. That would be such an insane thing to do. I have faith they won’t make that move. 

  • Jetpainter1964

    while i wanna see the Spurs get at least 1  more title  w Duncan
    i dont want to see a losing season at all Timmy deserves to retire a Spur NO MATTER WHAT.
    go spurs go

  • Bob

    Most of the free agent bigmen are not strong on defense and rebounding or are undersized. But I think that’s the addition that will help the Spurs the most. As can be seen with RJ adding another scorer is not necessarily going to help. Their offense was the most potent in the nba last season. They just need the ability to get stops.

  • Titletown99030507d

    There comes a time you need to cut your loses and start over and that time is now. Sorry.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I agree now is the time to that.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Duncan could stick around a few years longer with Howard on the team and just park himself at the top of the key and knock them down all night long and let Howard do the dirty stuff. That’s a good dream.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Everybody talks about trading TP what I would do at this stage is trade Duncan and Ginobili to get some good free agents and draft picks. Love them both to the ends of the earth but the best we’ll get out of them is what happened last year and no possibility of a good draft pick. TP is the best of the three to continue the winning tradition along with fresh super talent we would get. Hurts to say it.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Would any body here deal Duncan and Ginobili and leftovers for Howard? I would. I would first deal them for Howard for long term then tank the first season (chemistry issues excuse) so we could get a lottery pick and add to the rebuilding. DHoward, Tony Parker, Lottery pick, K Leonard, James Anderson, T Splitter, then maybe top shelf free agents would consider coming here with this bunch and off we go again. Besides you think Duncan cares at this point and Ginobili already has hinted he’s going back  home to Argentina and tend to his businesses after this contract.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Why? I’m about winning and not getting emotionally involved with players becoming fixtures on the bench  eventually getting 10 minutes a game just because you think we owe them something. Get value now for them while you can.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Another emotional driven statement.

  • Titletown99030507d

    So your sacrificing progress because of emotional attachment to a player who would otherwise be taking up a roster spot in a few years giving you no better performance than what he had in the past. Not a good move. I like to win. I was hurt when DRob left but he needed to go so now comes time for Duncan as well. Get the best value for him now and Ginobili to get back to elite status. You can say your goodbyes to them with a big party they’ll have for them any way. I’m sure they’ll make a DVD of them in tribute and make you pay for it. It’s a business!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Ginobili and Duncan are a year older. You think they’re going to lead the league in stops? People get over it. It’s over and they can sense it. The rest is academic. Why would anybody delay rebuilding when you can do it now? You have the way to get better now but your heart is in the way. The Spurs aren’t paying me to be emotional about it.

  • DorieStreet

    Duncan assumed that limited role this past season that  Robinson did his last 3 years (’01,’02,’03)-
    under 30 minutes/ less than 15 points and 9 rebounds per game (and like David, Tim averaged nearly 2 blocks per contest). But our front court players could not combine their talents and production to help him vs Memphis in the first round. All of the Spurs current & future 4s & 5s will need to step up their games significantly to come close to the regular season run and go farther in the playoffs.

  • DorieStreet

    Unless Ryan Mcshane’s scenario comes through -Spurs acquire Howard for ’12-13; or some frontcourt FA acquistion develops what is 70-75% Dwight’s game, in addition to Splitter breaking out and being a 10 ten C/PF—-I see this truncated 2011-12 season (if it happens) as Duncan’s last run with the Silver & Black.  Can he average 14 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in 27-28 minutes in 50 games? Can Tim deliver 12 pts, 10 rbs, 2 blks in the playoffs (without a game 5 clunker he put in vs. Memphis on his 35th birthday)?

    Planning for No. 21 to remain a Spur beyond 2012-13 is not feasible from any perspective.

  • Bry

    That isn’t progress. That’s a desperation move that would kill the franchise for (at least) a few years and make sure that Tony and Manu played their last couple of years in San Antonio on a crappy .500 team. Now Tim Duncan is a loss to be cut?!? That’s completely nuts. You have no idea how much he will even be paid next year. You don’t dump excellent defensive 6’11” Hall-of-Famers before they are done on a prayer. You think the fan-base would be happy with that? They don’t have anybody to replace him, he knows the Spurs system perfectly, and he’s due for a dramatic pay decrease. You’ve had a lot dumb ideas on here Titletown, but dumping Tim Duncan is the worst that you’ve had. And this pipe-dream about getting Howard is just a distracting fantasy. San Antonio had the 2nd best record in the league last year, and got knocked out in the first-round (their leading scorer had a broken arm, by the way). They had a great draft, and have plenty of young talent coming up. Your plan to blow it all up chasing fantasy is just awful. It IS a business. And what you’re recommending is bad, bad business.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NDYALQVYGEQVCHNTFQB2HADBTU Sean hernandez

    First and fore-most,61 win season without Duncan would never happend.Timmy may have average only 13pts and 9 boards but show me a center last year that had better stats,there were few and not many especially in last 10years who did better than 13 & 9.What u got realize,Duncan did not have many touches in paint offensively in regular season or 1st round.Spurs choose to give Parker and Ginobilli 1-2 punch with Duncan as 3rd option.Its obiviouse if you watch T.D. run his knees are jello and he cant move quick enough help defend other teammate men.When Duncan had enough problems with his own man randoloph,he also tried help Mcdress and Blair at ctr position which he cant do any more.What the spurs should been doing last 2 yrs is draft center with complete rebounding skills and shot blocking skills where Duncan doesnt have to worry about using energy protecting paint.Duncan has had best low post skills of any post player in last 12 yrs including Shaq,O’H SHAQ had no post moves except to dunk.my point is your post moves in paint do not deterate (kareem 40),it all ways be there,now duncan face up game has slow down because his quickness is not there. This up comming draft of 2012 has alot talent so i still try trade Jefferson for top 10 draft pick as he was the X-factor to get this team another championship as offensive production of Duncan and Ginobilli slowed down, he failed but spurs are building they team as big 3 plus bonner is only players over 30 for next year (4) They need youth next Duncan not experience with age,remember spurs staff when Robinson was past prime u brought youth in DUNCAN,you must do same for Duncan as u notice in last game playoffs. they played better with Splitter and Duncan together

  • Tim in Surrey

    The best post player in the game, while still in his prime, for two guys in their mid-30s and “leftovers”? I’m sure Orlando will get right on that.

  • Anonymous

    how is not getting emotionally involved with players a fun way to be a fan of the spurs? as a sports fan, isn’t that the point?

  • Anonymous

    how is not getting emotionally involved with players a fun way to be a fan of the spurs? as a sports fan, isn’t that the point?

  • Anonymous

    how is not getting emotionally involved with players a fun way to be a fan of the spurs? as a sports fan, isn’t that the point?

  • Anonymous

    how is not getting emotionally involved with players a fun way to be a fan of the spurs? as a sports fan, isn’t that the point?

  • Anonymous

    how is not getting emotionally involved with players a fun way to be a fan of the spurs? as a sports fan, isn’t that the point?

  • Kenan

    The spurs should try to get a young elite big man and play him with Duncan. Yes Duncan is waning, but another reason we all notice it so much is that the Spurs don’t have anyone on the roster that can pick up the slack.

    There’s a good chance we’ve all already witnessed all the titles the spurs will ever win. Duncan is going to retire a Spur. We should all embrace that. And we should all embrace the fast that we were able to watch and root for the greatest power forward ever.

    I hope we can get lucky again and rebuild to a point where we’re still massively in the hunt but that will take a lot of luck. At least we have what we have.

  • Kenan

    The spurs should try to get a young elite big man and play him with Duncan. Yes Duncan is waning, but another reason we all notice it so much is that the Spurs don’t have anyone on the roster that can pick up the slack.

    There’s a good chance we’ve all already witnessed all the titles the spurs will ever win. Duncan is going to retire a Spur. We should all embrace that. And we should all embrace the fast that we were able to watch and root for the greatest power forward ever.

    I hope we can get lucky again and rebuild to a point where we’re still massively in the hunt but that will take a lot of luck. At least we have what we have.

  • Kenan

    The spurs should try to get a young elite big man and play him with Duncan. Yes Duncan is waning, but another reason we all notice it so much is that the Spurs don’t have anyone on the roster that can pick up the slack.

    There’s a good chance we’ve all already witnessed all the titles the spurs will ever win. Duncan is going to retire a Spur. We should all embrace that. And we should all embrace the fast that we were able to watch and root for the greatest power forward ever.

    I hope we can get lucky again and rebuild to a point where we’re still massively in the hunt but that will take a lot of luck. At least we have what we have.

  • Anonymous

    Just a small-but-salient point:  DRob retired.  With the Spurs.  He wasn’t traded, and this talk of trading Duncan is just a terrible idea.

    The best option is for Duncan to take a pay cut commensurate with his diminishing numbers.  He still brings a lot to this team, and to not allow him to retire with the Spurs would be a travesty.

    And you better believe there’s an emotional attachment to Duncan.  How do you think the fans will react to Duncan (or Ginobili) being traded away?  Revenues will tank and the team’s administration will be hated for years.  After all, it’s a business.  ;)

  • Tyler

    Really? You cut your losses after a 61-21 season? I realize the playoffs weren’t kind, but I disagree.

    Sure, we’re probably not a “contender” anymore, but that’s still not a reason to close up shop. In any given year, there’s really only 4-5 teams that realistically have a shot at winning a ring. Is every other team supposed to gut their team? It’s not an “either-or” proposition in my mind. There’s some middle ground in there.

    Also, there’s not a whole lot of trade value on our roster. Realistically, the face lift starts after next season when TD’s $21M comes off the books (or resigns for less). 

    Plus, it makes no sense from a financial POV. As currently constructed, the Spurs are a competitive team, a team people are willing to spend money to see. Gut the team now and you lose a decent chunk of that revenue/potential profit. That’s not an option for this franchise, at least not yet. 

  • Tyler

    Really? You cut your losses after a 61-21 season? I realize the playoffs weren’t kind, but I disagree.

    Sure, we’re probably not a “contender” anymore, but that’s still not a reason to close up shop. In any given year, there’s really only 4-5 teams that realistically have a shot at winning a ring. Is every other team supposed to gut their team? It’s not an “either-or” proposition in my mind. There’s some middle ground in there.

    Also, there’s not a whole lot of trade value on our roster. Realistically, the face lift starts after next season when TD’s $21M comes off the books (or resigns for less). 

    Plus, it makes no sense from a financial POV. As currently constructed, the Spurs are a competitive team, a team people are willing to spend money to see. Gut the team now and you lose a decent chunk of that revenue/potential profit. That’s not an option for this franchise, at least not yet. 

  • Tyler

    “Besides you think Duncan cares at this point….”

    I can’t decide whether to be mad, laugh…..

    Ridiculous 

  • Tyler

    “Besides you think Duncan cares at this point….”

    I can’t decide whether to be mad, laugh…..

    Ridiculous 

  • Tyler

    “Besides you think Duncan cares at this point….”

    I can’t decide whether to be mad, laugh…..

    Ridiculous 

  • Tyler

    Great point….that would be no fun….might as well sit and look at spreadsheets all day

  • Tyler

    Great point….that would be no fun….might as well sit and look at spreadsheets all day

  • Tyler

    Great point….that would be no fun….might as well sit and look at spreadsheets all day

  • Tyler

    Great point….that would be no fun….might as well sit and look at spreadsheets all day

  • Bry

    I couldn’t agree more. Titletown is basically saying anybody that doesn’t want to dump Tim Duncan is emotionally irrational. It’s absurd. At the moment, he’s the only talented post-player that we have, coming off a 61-win season. There’s also a massive difference between an aging 6’11” power-forward, who can easily play center, and an aging guard or wing player whose game was based on athleticism. Think of just how awful that plan sounds. The GM gives an interview and says “I know that Timmy has never shown any interest in being traded or retiring early under pressure, that he’s the best PF in history and brought us 4 titles, that  he’s still by far our best defender and was the captain of our 61-win team last year, that he’s extremely popular with our fan base, is a perennial All-Star, is great in the community, and is one of the cleanest most consistent players in NBA history; but we just thought we need to move on in another direction. So, we dumped him for a couple of draft pix and a young prospect.” Seriously, how insane does that sound? Desperation is an emotion too, and all of this smacks of hysterical desperation to me.

  • Bry

    I couldn’t agree more. Titletown is basically saying anybody that doesn’t want to dump Tim Duncan is emotionally irrational. It’s absurd. At the moment, he’s the only talented post-player that we have, coming off a 61-win season. There’s also a massive difference between an aging 6’11” power-forward, who can easily play center, and an aging guard or wing player whose game was based on athleticism. Think of just how awful that plan sounds. The GM gives an interview and says “I know that Timmy has never shown any interest in being traded or retiring early under pressure, that he’s the best PF in history and brought us 4 titles, that  he’s still by far our best defender and was the captain of our 61-win team last year, that he’s extremely popular with our fan base, is a perennial All-Star, is great in the community, and is one of the cleanest most consistent players in NBA history; but we just thought we need to move on in another direction. So, we dumped him for a couple of draft pix and a young prospect.” Seriously, how insane does that sound? Desperation is an emotion too, and all of this smacks of hysterical desperation to me.

  • emperor ghostvalley666

    Titletown is an idiot. Though having more trading value, TP is not even close to the level that Manu and TImmy achieved.

  • Phife

    This is all dependent on the contract he signs. If he resigns for something like $5 mil a year, then he can stick around until he’s 45 for all I care.

  • Phife

    First off: if the Spurs owe any player in their history anything, it’s Tim Duncan. Secondly: if he resigns on a lower scale contract, would you still have a problem? Any team in the league would be better with Tim playing 20 minutes a game for $3-5 mil a year. 

  • titletown99

    What that did that 61-21 record do for us? NADA! He’s fine for the remainder of his contract. But I wouldn’t give up a roster spot so that he can play 3 more years and maybe 10 minutes a game. I’d rather develop a PF with potential sooner than later.