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

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(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.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It would be fun to win. But It ain’t happening if Timmy gets 10-13 minutes a game  and the Spurs keep him around till he fades away.  Your talking about a roster spot that’s being occupied so that we can still see his face. And yes it still would be fun if we got the front court infused with fresh potential sooner than later so that the rest of the young crew can take advantage of it in short time. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah if he’s making the veteran’s minimum but remember he’s still taking up a roster spot. There could be some young buck out there ready to surprise us all and we’d never know it just because we all love Timmy. I’m sure he’s happy with himself with what ever goes down.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He’s already starting to show signs of that and you think he’s going to be better than last year? He’s not and it’s going to be sad to see it on a night in and night out basis. You people aren’t accepting what’s here already. We had our chance last year and we didn’t do it. The window is shut and its time to redo and reload. You think the older guys are younger now. You get older every year not younger. The only saving grace about this lockout is it’s giving Timmy time to rest even more. That will help him in a shortened season, then we might have chance to fire that one last bullet. Let’s hope there’s a shortened season like in 99 we we won it all.

  • Titletown990030507d

    Yada Yada Yada, Just watch what happens when he’s still on the team 5 years from now. We’ll still be in denial.  We don’t owe him anything! Move on man. Look if he can’t play the way he did 3 years ago than it’s a waste of time. So in a long regular season for the next 3-5 years like you guys want is he going to bring you a double double night in and night out? I don’t think so, so it’s a moot point. Hey I like the man and I’ll be there for his retirement bash but I’ts time to move on. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Ok bry I want to see a double double out of him in 3 years. and if he can’t but everybody still loves him. Where does it benefit the FO. Oh yeah I forgot they’ll sell tickets anyway because Timmy is here. Tanking and selling tickets. A lot of people won’t admit it but if they don’t win no one will buy tickets. That’s why they better infuse talent on this team real quick in the front court or else. Losing because we have a love affair with a player now that’s irrational. Relax Timmy ain’t going nowhere, now are you happy?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Thank you, finally someone who’s realistic. But I think in this coming shortened season he can average the above stats you mentioned. They fired their last bullet last season but with the lock out looks like there seems to be another bullet in there for Timmy’s sake but only because of the short season.

  • Titletown99030507d

    And that’s probably how it’s going to play out. But when? Is what I want to know?

  • Titletown99030507d

    You said achieved. That’s past tense. Tony at this point is playing better than those two. Didn’t you see the Olympic qualification games in Europe? And please no name calling. You just got here and your throwing out pendehera’s. God bless you 666.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Too funny!

  • Hunter

    Heres what I think

    This Season (It will come)
    We sign Eddy Curry or Aaron Gray to a 1 year Contract and trade RJ Gary Neal and Bonner to the Thunder for Cole Aldrich and a First rounder. The thunder would do it because they have a lot of Cap room, Need a backup small forward and wouldnt mind parting ways with Aldrich. We benefit from this because we get a legitimate Back up center and possibly starter and get rid of some cap room and obtain a draft Pick. We Start Kawhi Leanord at SF and Davis Bertans at Backup SF, we also bring  second round picks Adam Hanga and Erazm Lorbeck into the Picture. So heres our depth Chart

    C: Curry (Gray) Aldrich Lorbeck
    PF: Duncan Splitter Blair
    SF: Leanord: Bertans Butler Green
    SG: Ginobli Anderson Hanga
    PG: Parker Joseph 

    Next Season we Trade Parker for a lottery pick and draft a high stock player. Which Clears up Cap space to Sign a young up and coming Center such as Brook lopez. Let him learn from Duncan and lets hope Splitter Progresses into a solid PF then we can have a season similar to the 99 season where we have a young prospect mixed with old talent and have him delevop at his own pace like Duncan.

    I dont know who we draft so I can not predict a depth Chart for that season

  • GMT

    Oh, please. Taking up a roster spot? If you call Duncan a waste of space, you might as well trade away all of our other bigs, too. Even if he’s aged, he’s still the best big we have. What does that say?

  • Bry

    Give up a roster spot? So, now there’s no room on a 13-15 man team for Tim Duncan, and he’s a loss to be cut?! You’ve lost your mind. And you think that a PF will develop better in San Antonio WITHOUT Tim Duncan on the team? Yes, that makes perfect sense. If you want to become a great PF, you definitely don’t want to practice with and learn from the greatest of all time. That will definitely be detriment to your development. There is really nothing you’re saying that makes any sense.

  • Bry

    You’ve now gone from arguing that the Spurs should dump Tim Duncan to arguing that Tim Duncan would be a detriment to the team even if he is playing 10-13 minutes a game. Seriously, what on earth are you smoking?

  • Bry

    So, now Tim Duncan is useless and a detriment to the team if he’s not averaging a double-double!? A total of SIX guys average a double-double in the entire league this season. And that includes Kris Humphries and Zach Randolph. LeMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol all failed to do that. But, now Timmy has to do that or he’s ‘holding back’ the team and needs to stop ‘taking up a roster spot’?! There is nothing rational about what you are saying. You’re using words like “tanking” and ‘waste of space’ for Tim Duncan. You are talking about him like he has suddenly become a below-average or even poor player. And then you’re accusing people who don’t agree with your insanity of being irrationally emotional. Madness.

  • Bry

    REALISTIC!? There is absolutely nothing realistic about expecting the San Antonio Spurs to acquire Howard for the ’12-’13 season. “Doesn’t anybody SEE that? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

  • GMT

    Were you a Spurs fan before the championships, Titletown? Your name would be meaningless without Duncan. What did you think of the Spurs before ’99? Why do you feel like we don’t owe anything to Duncan, when he gave you your name?

  • Avichai Shapira

    I guess you like Science Fiction.

    Lorbeck will (probably) never be a spur, as he is 27 and signed a new deal with Barcelona.
    Bertans and Hanga are 18 years old! and far far from being ready. I doubt if any of them will ever be. Also they are under contracts.
    I firmly believe that Neal has a greater value then Aldrich alone, who has been a real under-achiever and was pushed to the 12th roster spot by Nick Collison hassle.
    Cory Joseph is also not close to be a NBA player and he will spend this next season with the Toros, working on his pathetic jump-shot.
    If there is a player i’d like to see in the sliver uniforms it would be Nando de Colo who looked very impressive in the Euro-basket knockout stages. However he is also under contract for the next season.

    Now to Mr. titletown. you my friend forget Duncan’s greatest value by far. He is the LEADER and SOUL of the SA SPURS. I guarantee you that without Duncan this team will not win more then .500 for a decade, it will loose a nice majority of their market supporters and fan,  resulting in probably the END of the franchise place in San Antonio.

    Duncan has almost NO value right now, he is the same as the insides of a house you just refurnished and you now sell, he has sentimental value, to the franchise and to the fans.
    Also, The Spurs “Trademark” in this league is their loyalty to their player, without it this franchise is nothing. Just imagine what it would cost the Spurs in terms of Image!

    So after we cleared that we cant trade him[also not Manu by the way], it would be foolish not to resign him. I can guarantee you, following Duncan’s career, he is so self-aware he will be the first to acknowledge his decline and to take a pay-cut or even retire. I believe that Duncan will be under payed from next season to his last. It is also his agenda, he is not about the money just like he is not about stats, he is giving a significant amount of his paycheck to charity though his wife’s foundation, he will also would like to leave on a high-note just like D-Rob did, having Duncan AND so much cap space next season could be the best for the team. Remember this, Duncan is in good terms with almost anyone, he is respected all over the NBA, who said he cant talk to his pal Chris Paul[Example] if he doesn’t get traded and get him here on the max paycheck.

    If you take you face out of you butt you will also see that Anderson & Leonard are looking like yet another major draft steals with Leonard having real All-Star potential, also Splitter will be a good ForwardCenter in this league.

    Just have a look around! Does it look like it’s easy to rebuild???? Golden State,LA Clippers,Washington,New York,Minnesota,Sacramento are just a few franchises who failed to gain a playoff birth for years and years! Despite having a place of honor in the lottery. RC Bufurd is leading the Spurs to their next era with nothing but grace, unlike the Detroit Pistons or the Cleveland Cavaliers who got stuck in the present and this present is now gone and they are left with nothing but losses.

  • Anonymous

    You’re still not making a good case for yourself.  If Duncan is THAT bad, and we’re tanking, that means we’ve got a good shot of locking up good draft picks for the three years or so that we’ll have him.

    No, the problem is that a diminishing Duncan (and Ginobili) enables the Spurs to remain a playoff team, but not a title contender, thus dooming them to weak draft choices.  But the team is not in a position to get close to the value each of these players currently brings, or likely will bring in the next 2-3 years.

    Really, that means the only option is to ride this thing out, and let them retire when they feel it’s time.  If you don’t let them do that, you risk losing tons of revenue and raising the ire of the Spurs fanbase.  And again, if they end up being as apparently bad as you think they are, we get good draft picks.  We either hang on to them, or let them retire.  There is no other option that exists in the land of reality, unless someone is willing to give up an arm and a leg for them, and I don’t see that happening.

  • Badger

    He really is still the best big we have, and it’s not even close.  I think he can still play 20 minutes per game consistently, except maybe back to backs, and he’s still a key contributor in so many ways.  However, he needs to take 5-7 million a year on a 2 or 3 year deal in order for the team to have enough juice to keep the Spurs in the group of teams that can have a shot at a championship.  

    He absolutely deserves a roster spot until he says it’s time to quit.  However, he really would be taking up a lot more than a roster spot if he keeps getting paid the kind of money he earned when he was the MVP.

  • Badger

    If there was a “Dislike” after this comment, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

  • Tyler

    The best part isn’t that you have the Spurs signing Eddie Curry, it’s that you have him starting…..

    I can’t think of a more anti-Spurs type of player in the NBA than Eddie Curry (seriously, I went through every roster from last year). 

  • Bry

    Titletown is the only one that seems to think Timmy’s annual salary won’t drop substantially after this season. Or he’s just using Tim’s final balloon salary of this year as an excuse to chase his obsession with dumping Tim Duncan from San Antonio. Not only does every player in the NBA take a massive pay-cut coming off a big long, contract (when they are in their mid-30′s), but Timmy also has no history of demanding exorbitant salaries. Having said that, I think he deserves more than 5-7 million; at least for the next two seasons. The average NBA salary was 5.5 million last year. Tim Duncan is FAR better than the average NBA player, whether or not he brought SA championships. ESPN is doing a hokey ranking of all 500 NBA players. They’re down to 110 now; and they yet to mention Timmy. In fact, Blair just got listed at #120. Duncan’s easily top 60, and I have no problem with him making 9 or 10 million over the next 2 years. AFTER that (when he’s 37, considering retirement, and more limited) then I say go ahead and pay him peanuts. But, not now. Now it would be an insult and – more importantly – it would be trying to UNDERPAY a player who is the captain of your team and really hasn’t done anything to merit such treatment. I figure they offer him a four-year deal; in the range of 27-31 million, descending, with the smallest option for the final year. In fact, they should just make the final year a team option. Duncan is better than Dice. He’s also taller and younger. I think most people agree that Dice’s contract was fair; and it allows him to choose the time and manner of his retirement. So, why not a fair one for Duncan?

  • Anonymous

    Tree Rollins played until he was about 100 years old, and he had moments, long past his prime, when he shined on the court.  I enjoyed it as a fan, and I’m sure Tree loved it as a player.  Just sayin’.  

  • Anonymous

    Kevin Willis?

  • Anonymous

    “A total of SIX guys average a double-double in the entire league this season.”  this is a very good point.  who are all these easily available young double-double producing prospects, that we need to force Duncan out?

  • Anonymous

    the Spurs shouldn’t be paying you, at all.

  • Bob

    There’s no need to panic. If the Spurs make the right roster moves they’re still in contention. They have a core of a team that beat the Mavs a season ago. The Mavs made the right moves and got better defensively and won a championship. The Spurs have to do the same thing. They need to get better defensively. Playing Splitter alongside Duncan is going to improve the post defense. And playing guys like Leonard and Anderson will improve the wing defense. They still need a defensive big to replace Dice. Bonner should get spot minutes and Blair needs to be able to provide rebounding and energy of the bench.

  • could you imagine

     if this summer, the Spurs were able to
    acquire restricted free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill from the
    Indiana Pacers and only had to give up James Anderson and Cory Joseph? 
     
    How strong would the Spurs depth be if that were somehow to happen?  
     
    Tim
    Duncan already said he’s a Spur for life so he might just take the
    veteran’s minimum to have someone like Roy Hibbert that he can pass the
    torch onto before he retires. And we already know George Hill can fit
    in well with the Spurs. 
     
    Yeah, I know… 
    not likely to happen (Steven Jackson would have to give up the #3 jersey) but could you imagine …

  • Nicolás

    Oh my god you look like an idiot now.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Do I? It was a more than fair question at the time.

  • Sunny

    It was an absurd question. You had no faith in San Antonio’s staff and Pop’s recruiting skills; no faith that Tim would take a pay cut and better his fallen output; no faith in Spurs basketball really. The ’13 NBA Finals are a testament to the two opposing mantras in basketball: buying a team versus building a team. Even if the Spurs don’t win the championship, it is fairly obvious that small market teams can succeed with their framework – all it takes is decent, respectable people like Tim Duncan, not money hungry superstars, and a little loyalty on player and management side of the court.

  • jweb