Tim Duncan is choosing not to opt out of his contract and will play an 18th season for the San Antonio Spurs, the second most played by a player for a single team (Stockton, Utah-19). So now, with Tim Duncan positively returning to San Antonio for another season, all the talk has been about the Spurs chance at repeating as NBA champions. However, perhaps the talk should be about how his decision will help build the San Antonio Spurs future, possibly guaranteeing more championships even after he is gone.
Coming into this next season, NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, will be just 23-years-old. Looking at how much Leonard has improved year after year, the future development of this young, but inevitable, star in the league, could hinge heavily on continuing to be around this group of selfless winners, especially Tim Duncan.
Coach Gregg Poppovich has been quoted on several occasions urging Leonard to take a bigger role on the team, telling him that “(he is) the man. A part of the engine that makes this team go.” Tony Parker has told reporters that he hopes that they “won’t put too much pressure on him” and will “let him grow.” These two quotes alone describe a star in the making. Not an already developed star that is ready to take the reins just yet.
The most powerful quote, however, could have been from Manu Ginobili after one playoff game against the Los Angeles Clippers over three years ago. Ginobili described the mannerisms of then-rookie Kawhi Leonard as being “impossible [to tell what he’s thinking].” Describing Leonard as “always under control… never (getting) very upset… doesn’t (ever) get too hyped up.” Replace Leonard’s name with Duncan and the description of the two players is nearly identical. So who better than Tim Duncan, the guy Leonard seemingly appears to be modeling himself after, to help continue to guide Leonard’s development even further?
Leonard is not the only future Spur that will benefit from Duncan’s return. Coach Poppovich has a future to think about as well. With Duncan’s return, “Pop” will have yet another year or two of developing his young talent while grooming a future leader in Leonard, transitioning from one system to another. “Pop’s” overall system would remain the same, but at the same time, be completely different. The overall theme of “selfless basketball” will still hold true, but the pieces will be different, calling for a new “style” of play. With Duncan and the rest of the big three coming back for at least another season, Poppovich would not have the immediate pressure of having to win in a completely new system right away. Instead, he could test out, reshape and retool his strategy, taking time to work out the kinks of an evolving offense.
En route to another possible repeat title, especially if Miami’s team gets blown up, the front office benefits greatly from Tim Duncan returning as well. The big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all will come in with one year remaining on their respective contracts. It is hard to believe that all three of them would be leaving after next season, especially Tony Parker, who will be just 32-years-old. As it stands now, only one player, Tiago Splitter, will officially be under contract for the 2015-16 season. Two players, Kawhi Leonard and Corey Joseph, would become restricted free agents. That leaves the Spurs front office a lot of room to resign or sign anyone they want in the way that they want.
Top priority would clearly go to renegotiating a contract deal with Leonard before the October 31st deadline, in which he would there after become a restricted free agent. Although, even if he became a restricted free agent, with Duncan’s $10.361 million- and perhaps even Ginobili’s $7 million- coming off the table, it is hard to imagine the Spurs not being able to pay Leonard.
With another year of Tim Duncan in tow for the San Antonio Spurs, the front office and the coaching staff alike can really see how well they can develop the young players on the squad. Considering how Duncan’s and Ginobili’s minutes will surely decrease even more, players like Patty Mills (should he resign); Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter will be forced to take a bigger role. How they respond and who exactly responds may just help the team gain a future new-look big three.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles