HANG TIME, Texas — Try to imagine Santa coming down the chimney wearing a glen plaid suit with a natty pocket square and maybe a jaunty beret on his head. Or Queen Elizabeth showing up at the next royal function sporting a pair of Uggs.
Certainly those sights would have been no more jarring than the thought of Manu Ginobili in something other than a San Antonio Spurs jersey.
El Contusion made any speculation that he might leave moot by tweeting that he has agreed to a new contract that will keep him with the club for two more years. Terms of the deal were not available, but it’s safe to say Ginobili will not get anywhere close to the $14.1 million from last season that made him the highest paid player on the team. It should be noted that when Tim Duncan agreed to his new deal last summer, he took a paycut from $21.15 million to $9.6 million.
While Ginobili’s contract obviously keeps together the core of the lineup that went to Game 7 of The Finals against the Heat last month, it is also safe to say it stamped an expiration date on the Spurs as we know them.
Assuming Duncan exercises his player option for the third year of his deal, the Spurs entire Big Three with have their contracts expire at the end of the 2014-15 season. Duncan will be 39, Ginobili will be 38 and point guard Tony Parker will be 33. At that point, the Spurs will have only three players on the books for the following season — Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Cory Joseph.
In other words, it will be time to start over, and most likely with a new coach, since Gregg Popovich has long vowed to walk out the door with Duncan.
But until that time we can count on the Spurs continuing to make the predictions about their impending demise look foolish. As Popovich mentioned after the loss to Miami, what’s not to like about a team that won 58 games and came within 28 seconds in Game 6 of knocking off the defending champs?
A top priority for the Spurs in October will be to get Ginobili back on track following a 2012-13 season that was often ugly. With his breakneck style, durability has never been his strength and Ginobili missed 22 games with a variety of ailments. When he did play, he averaged 11.8 points per game, shot just 42.5 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range, all figures that were near worsts for his 11-year career. He also committed 2.2 turnovers per game, including an abysmal eight times in the galling Game 6 and four times in Game 7.
Those problems aside, there was never a doubt that the Spurs wanted and needed him back to continue being the Spurs as we know them. It is still that lightning bolt streak of unpredictability Ginobili brings that can make him virtually impossible to plan for or defend. With the seemingly ageless Duncan extending his Hall of Fame career with an All-NBA first team season and Parker continuing to expand his skills and press his case as the league’s best point guard, the trio that has won three NBA championships together does not seem ready to back down.
The Spurs are reportedly in the running for free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko, who could get them another wing defender and attacker of the basket, along with veteran Kyle Korver, who could possibly supplant free agent Gary Neal as sharpshooter off the bench.
The grapevine also has San Antonio considering the idea of pursuing perpetually rehabilitating center Greg Oden. That’s the kind of chance you can take when you’re strong at the core, which is the case now that El Contusion is safely back in the fold.
With Ginobili on board, the Spurs are still the Spurs. But over the next two years get a good look at Tim, Tony, Manu and Pop. Because this contract stamps the end date and the clock is ticking.