- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Tim Duncan is 37 years old and remarkably fit. He averaged 17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.7 bpg this season. He became the second-oldest player behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be selected to the All-NBA First Team. He is one win away from capturing a fifth NBA championship in his 16th season. He has two years and $20.7 million left on his contract, the second year being a player option.
But could this be it for The Big Fundamental? And if it is, could it set off a chain reaction that changes the San Antonio Spurs, modern sport’s most stable franchise, forever?
There are some of hints out there — nothing of much substance beyond some curious phraseology, but hints nonetheless — that at least make asking these questions legitimate, particularly if the Spurs beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat in tonight’s Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals (9 ET, ABC).
Start with Spurs point guard Tony Parker. After San Antonio swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals, Parker spoke of the promise he made to Duncan to get back to the NBA finals for another title shot after last season’s sudden and excruciating exit by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West finals.
As the Heat and Pacers battled back and forth in the East finals, Parker sat down with CNN/Turner Sports reporter Rachel Nichols and expounded on his desire to return Duncan to the finals:
“Because for me, I get emotional when I talk with Timmy because he means so much to my career and he’s been such a great friend that I would love for Timmy to go out on top just like David Robinson went out on top in 2003. I would love to do the same thing for Timmy.”
The obvious ear-perker is Parker saying he would “love for Timmy to go out on top…” Does Tony know something that Timmy isn’t saying?
Robinson, who indeed retired a champion after the 2002-03 season — his second title alongside Duncan — still lives in San Antonio and attends his share of games at the AT&T Center, just as he did last week. Robinson was 37, the same age as Duncan, when he retired after a 14-year Hall of Fame career. He recently made this comment to Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
“I was fortunate to end my last game on a win. I’d love to see that for Tim. I don’t know if this will be his last [year]. If they win it this time, there’s nothing to say they can’t win it again.”
Robinson quickly added the caveat, but it is interesting that he’s at least thinking that this might be Duncan’s last rodeo.
And say it is, what would the chain reaction look like?
Take shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who won his first of three titles with Duncan in 2003. Frustrated by his struggles this season and throughout the playoffs, Ginobili didn’t bat down the notion of retirement last week after his futility reached a climax in Game 4. Ginobili turns 36 next month, battles two careers worth of wear-and-tear and will be a free agent this summer. He has been consistent in saying that he doesn’t envision himself stepping aside now, but he also hasn’t shut that door. Between Games 4 and 5, he was asked about retiring after yet another physically taxing season in which he missed 22 games, and Ginobili said:
“I really don’t know. All season long I kind of knew that I was going to play one or two more years. But when you are 36 — I’m going to be 36 pretty soon — everything is a day-by-day basis. Once the season finishes and I see how I feel, I can’t imagine me not playing at least one more year here, but time will tell. We’ll see.”
It’s worth pondering if a Duncan retirement would further push Ginobili in that direction following his least productive year since his rookie season.
Then there’s the case of coach Gregg Popovich, the longest-tenured active coach in the four major U.S. sports in his 17th season. For years, Popovich has hitched his wagon to Duncan. He reiterated that earlier this season to the San Antonio Express-News:
“When he doesn’t think he can [play], he’ll stop. It might be in the middle of a game. I can see him walking off the court saying, ‘Nah, I’m not pulling my weight anymore. I’m gone.’ And he’ll walk. And I’ll be right behind him, like this. No pride, no nothing.”
Duncan, thank you very much, was marvelous in Game 6 (30 points, 17 rebounds) and consistently still pulls his weight, which has dropped by some 25 pounds the last two seasons, a major factor in his renaissance.
So who knows? Maybe the Spurs win tonight and Duncan joins Robinson on the Spurs’ old-timer’s squad. He’s never seemed driven — or possessed — like Kobe Bryant to catch Michael Jordan at six rings. Maybe the Spurs win it all and Duncan wants more. Maybe the Spurs lose and he decides he can’t go through it again, or that he must. Who knows?
One day though, that day will come. When Duncan calls it quits, when Pop follows and when Manu returns home.
We just don’t know, as improbable as it might seem, if that day will be tomorrow.