Tim Duncan’s closing act

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In putting pen to paper, San Antonio Spurs franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan will have also signed off on the countdown to the rest of his career.

By signing a multi-year deal with the only NBA team he has ever known, in all probability his last, Duncan also puts a tangible number on what’s left of his career.

Three years.

Three years left for the basketball world to enjoy the understated brilliance of one of the ten greatest players to have ever picked up a basketball before he rides off into the sunset for this third and final act.

It’s perhaps too early to get caught up in looking back on Duncan’s career, but when that time comes I imagine it can be broken down into five acts—two transitional periods that bridge three distinct teams in Duncan’s career:

  1. (1997-2001) The remnants of the David Robinson era, a team bolstered by veterans like Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott to help protect and shape Duncan through his early formative years.
  2. (2003-2007) The Big Three era that marked Duncan’s prime and the teams he will be most associated with.
  3. (2011-xxxx) Duncan’s closing act, surrounded by old friends (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and new faces (Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard) to give a fading but still prominent Duncan a dignified sendoff.

For all intents and purposes the San Antonio Spurs have been in a transitory phase over the past 4-5 years, distributing Duncan’s power and responsibilities more evenly between him, Parker, and Ginobili, while shifting to a system that would enable an aging Duncan a final run.

Last year’s team represents the first fully-formed iteration of that process.

By re-signing Boris Diaw and Danny Green to two and three-year deals respectively, trading for Kawhi Leonard, and extending Parker and Ginobili to contracts with expirations that coincide with the rest of the roster’s, the Spurs have set Duncan up with the team he will make his final run with.

The Spurs front office will continue to work around the fringes, keeping or moving the likes of Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair, or Gary Neal as needs or opportunities arise. And Stephen Jackson’s expiring contract remains a wild card to everything.

But the roster we see today will likely make up the majority of the roster during Duncan’s farewell tour, with enough youth and upside to help offset whatever age will whittle away over the next three years.

It stands today as one of the four or five elite teams capable of competing for a championship, perhaps just a notch below the two teams (Miami and Oklahoma City) that actually competed for last year’s championship.

Stability throughout the roster ensures that the team will be growing together and building upon each of the next two seasons as opposed to frantically reloading and propping itself up on a pile of desperation moves.

It’s a testament to the Spurs front office’s long-term vision that Duncan will avoid the roster upheaval and turmoil that befell the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkely, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, and Patrick Ewing at the end of their careers.

R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich have crafted a roster and system that both heavily relies on Duncan and accounts for any reasonable drops in production.

The flexibility the Spurs have left themselves for an immediate post-Duncan rebuild also prevents the Spurs from necessitating a complete organizational teardown, ensuring that the culture and foundations set by Duncan will grow the franchise through his example in ways that the Knicks, Bulls, and Rockets never managed to do with their own Hall of Fame players.

If this is the final Duncan contract, he will leave the game in a way so few players are afforded—Not staying past his relevance while affording himself the opportunity to expend every bit of basketball greatness he has left on a team he is comfortable with.

After years of writers predicting the Spurs fall, we can finally set a date. Three years. Enjoy every bit of it while it lasts.

  • Tyler

    Is it getting a little dusty in here or is it just me?

  • Titletown99030507d

    What will Timmy’s minutes be in 2013?, 2014?, 2015? And how many games will he miss? He missed 8 games to play at the level we saw in 2012 and still ran out of gas by the time we got bounced. How many games will he miss in those those years? Will he miss 16, 32, 64 in 82 grueling game seasons? I really love Timmy but that’s a long farewell tour.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It’s ok we just need to make sure he gets enough shut eye and to take his one a days’.

  • feingarten

    no one knows how any one’s season will end
    be grateful that Timmy has played for one team in his entire career, has been a gentleman throughout

    and remember we didn’t get bounced because of Tim against OKC- we got bounced because Green had a shooting slump, Bonner disappeared, Pop in his stubbornness refused to play Blair, Ibaka had the game of his career (he sure disappeared against Miami didn’t he?), Neal contributed very little and Mills never left the bench. -it seemed to me it was a congruence of escape

    as some of asserted, there is an overwhelming concern reg:minutes? Do you want Tim to play 40 plus like Kobe and others to make you happy? Or do you want Tim to leave this year so that for you the farewell tour ends in 80 plus games?

  • Gtown20

    That’s your stupid opion! I think it should have been 4 years which will take him to 40. He is still the best spurs have. Until the spurs get a nother franchise player, He is their only hope, just imagine if he had some help. Pop tried to turn it over to Parker, we saw how far that got us. Parker gave out on gas the second half of th OKC last game, Isnt he suppose to be the young one. Never happened to Duncan at that age,or any other elite point guard in the league. Spurs need a back up point guard that is a starter to share half the minutes with parker, and play defense. Duncan have been protecting parker all these years defensive, now Duncan cant do it anymore, parker need to find some D very soon! Duncan is amongst the best on defense still and cornerstones everything the spurs does well. I wonder if they had gone to him more in the post vs OKC in the final minutes of the last game, what would hav e happened, but instead Parker come down as usual and shoot a jumper like he did vs memphis in the 1st playoff game. who told him he can shoot? my point is, do like the lakers, keep kobe surrounded by other talent at every position so we can prolong Duncan career to 40! Spurs has 1 superstar for all these years, go 4 championships, Get him some help, Ginoboli is a helper at times, not consistent anymore. Thanks Pop and Buford for Duncan wanting to stay and play 3 more years. Get help, physical center, point guard, and a power forward with size and athleticism.

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  • ThatBigGuy

    The FO just guaranteed 3 more years of a sold out AT&T Center. I just mentally doubled my Spurs budget so I can hit up a few more games while Timmeh is still playing.

  • Tyler

    …..and the alternative is???

    If TD wanted $12M, he gets $12M. Even if he wanted $20, we’d give him $20….

    Regardless of how many games he plays/misses, it’s well deserved considering what he’s done for this franchise and city.

  • Titletown99030507d

    If I’m running a business I pay someone for what they are capable of giving me not what they’ve done years past.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You may have to save him during the regular season even more just to get the same result or maybe even less now. We’re just putting off the rebuild. You honestly think they are going to get the one for the thumb? They are trying to will something that already came and went. Don’t get me wrong I would the first one to man up and say I was wrong if we did get that one for the thumb. I’m just being realistic here. And if he’s not playing 30 minutes than we just resigned him for a farewell tour. And if your ok with that well your thinking. I want more.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Look at the first half stats of 3 of those OKC series games and you’ll see Timmy shot horrible. He had to take a butt load more shots just to look respectable. Shots that in the first half someone else could have taken. He is resigned to taking top of the key shots (and he missed a lot of those) instead of going to post moves. And Diaw didn’t exactly impress with his post moves down low either. And so you say give him a contract till he’s 40? Your crazy. He will not be playing at the level we saw last season at age 40 let alone miss a butt load of games when he’s in his last year. Manu’s smart he knows the jig is up that’s why he’s ending it after this season. Good luck and let the rebuild begin. Your post is nothing more emotional than actually realistic business.

  • feingarten

    titletown99030507d

    what exactly do you want? Make big splashes that may or may not culminate in another ring? So you say its already come and gone- how do you know? Is there any guarantee OKC and Miami are returning to the championship round next season? So you want Tim to play 30 minutes nightly to make you happy?

    Managing minutes is of benefit but you see that as some sort of hindrance. So you want the Spurs to rebuild this year? So you didn’t want Tim to be resigned? Would you have felt better if Tim went to another team ala Ray Allen? Who do you believe to be a better fit? That crybaby Bynum? That other whiner Dwight Howard? Who are these BIGS you speak of? Bigs don’t grow on trees, you know.

    Rebuilding is a difficult process. Pieces must fit. Players must want to abide by a team’s philosophy. Would you be willing to suffer thru years of insignificance until the Spurs would flourish once more?

    For myself, I am glad Tim will finish his career with one team- that is rare indeed and should be celebrated. I don’t care how many minutes he plays – he’s effective and that’s what should matter.

  • Tyler

    It’s not always about dollars and cents. Loyalty, gratitude, humbleness, etc. come into play at some point. I can tell you from (my limited) experience, it’s difficult to run a good business if you don’t treat others well. Any business that solely focuses on the bottom line and the bottom line only has a limited shelf life.

    And don’t think for a second other players around the league don’t see how SA treats its players. That reputation is definitely worth value among players.

  • http://twitter.com/blanchard48moh Jesse Blanchard

    Have you seen the deals being handed out? Tim Duncan is easily worth that amount based off what he did last year .

  • http://twitter.com/blanchard48moh Jesse Blanchard

    The Spurs are closer to a ring now (6 games) than they would be in five years if they chose a complete rebuild right now.

  • Graham

    This team’s plenty good enough to contend. Just because OKC played out of their minds on defense for 4 games (and promptly forgot to next series) isn’t time to hit the panic button. Keep this team together, let them get another crack at it this year and just enjoy being one of the top 4 teams in basketball for the next couple of years. God knows that rebuilding will be a long and painful process. The idea of deliberately tanking for several years to compile picks sickens me, especially when our guys (as last season showed) have plenty enough burn left to compete for a title.

  • Graham

    As has been said, we are as close as we will be to a title right now than we ever will be for the next decade if we just pull the plug. This team’s still in the top 4 of title contenders IMO, and folding now because of an insane 4 game stretch of ball by the thunder is stupid.

    I am NOT looking forward to watching this team rebuild, What’s on the horizon that warrants throwing away this last real chance at a title this decade? Sure as hell isn’t Anthony Davis. You want us to throw away our last few good years with this squad for what I equate to flinging darts at a dartboard while blindfolded hoping the next Duncan falls into our lap. Put off the rebuild as long as necessary I say, especially when the alternative is deep playoff runs with realistic title explanations.

  • Tim in Surrey

    “That’s your stupid opion!” Well said.

  • Tim in Surrey

    I don’t know. I love Tim Duncan as much as anybody. But he’s already earned more than $204,000,000. That’s more than the GDP of several different nations, and it’s 326 times what a Texas school teacher would earn over a 15-year period, based on the current average salary ($41,744). That may be what the market for his services will bear but no basketball player is “worth that”.

    (Sorry for letting reality intrude on a basketball blog, but I just spent yesterday afternoon helping advise a bunch of wonderful performers and composers how to turn what they do into “research”, so that they can keep jobs that pay them less than what a Texas school teacher makes–even though what they do requires every bit as much dedication and specialized talent as what Tim does.)

  • Tyler

    I get your point. I was strictly speaking in terms of NBA economics. Now if we’re talking about pay based on what is “moral” or what someone is “worth”, that’s a separate discussion.

  • Bry

    Hear, hear! Eloquently put!

  • Bry

    And? How much did the Spurs make OFF of Duncan’s greatness? He earned every penny, and then some. But, that’s a digression anyway. Like Jesse said, Duncan played very well last year. He single-handedly turned the Spurs defense from poor to well above average. He averaged 15 and 9 in limited by highly efficient minutes, and is obviously a leader both on the floor and in the locker room. He’s 6’11″, has a very high b-ball IQ, protects the rim and makes his teammates better. I don’t know what drug Titletown is taking. If you think Duncan wouldn’t have been snapped up in heartbeat by any of 20 different teams around the NBA for an even higher price, you’re fooling yourself. Had Duncan played maybe 5 or 6 more minutes per game last year (which wasn’t necessary) he’d would have been considered an elite bigman by even the most casual of fans. Duncan is not, nor has ever really been, overpaid or over-rated.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Money is not the issue at hand it’s several promising roster spots.

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

    If you can find someone who deserves a roster spot more than Tim Duncan, have at it.

  • Titletown99030507d

    for example If your 52 years old and you’ve worked hard for the last 10 years and gotten paid well for what you did but now you find yourself you can’t perform like you did say in the next couple of years then what would the owner think? Well your really a swell guy and have given me your blood but 2 years have passed and you suck at your job. Duoh!

  • Titletown99030507d

    I know why it sickens you. Because FO like Charlott and Washington suck at picking lottery talent.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I thought he was going to go for one more season and that would have been ok with me but to hold the club hostage for 3 more years? Let’s move on.

  • Titletown99030507d

    And they’ll probably be 6 games away from a ring again next season. HOOORAY!

  • Titletown99030507d

    He’s just milking it. Do you honestly think he’ll play at a level garnishing the label “best big on the team”
    even after the next season in 2013-2014?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Just like when someone wins the lottery and chooses to stay on because he feels like it and in reality taking away a job someone could really use. LOL just shitin with you.

  • Titletown99030507d

    2012-2013 “were 8 games away!”, 2013-2014 “we’re 12 games away!”, 2014-2015 “OH crap! we’re 16 games away!”

  • Hilda Orduno

    do you have a crystal ball?

  • Hilda Orduno

    don’t be a hater.

  • Hilda Orduno

    and he deserves EVERY second of this tour.

  • Hilda Orduno

    Do you reward loyalty? Or are you one of those that demands it without earning it.

  • Hilda Orduno

    Spurs players such as Robinson or Duncan could have done what so many others do, left the small market SAS and make more money elsewhere. They stayed because it was not about the money.

  • Hilda Orduno

    its you

  • Tyler

    Your example isn’t even close to analogous…..

  • Tyler

    Without a doubt he’ll still be the best big on the team in 13/14.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Im not hating love Timmy just wanted some extra cash to get a decent big to help out.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I meant his last year 2014-2015.