Tim Duncan is undoubtedly the greatest Spur of all time, but they all have to go at some point. However, Duncan always managed to make the best of any situation, and this next chapter is no different.
Duncan is the San Antonio Spurs. If one player has ever defined a franchise, it would be Duncan. In fact, he defines the whole city, as there are no other major professional sports in San Antonio.
For the last 19 years, the Spurs run of dominance has been thanks to one basketball’s most dependable superstars.
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However, those days are officially over. The Big Three era is officially over, Manu Ginobili is in his last contract, Tony Parker is slow, Gregg Popovich is old. The Spurs should be in dire straights, right? Well they are not, in fact they will be competing for a championship.
Yet, without Duncan will they have enough to win a title?
Duncan, surprisingly, was one of the biggest problems with Spurs’ lineups last year, and kept them from being cohesive in crunch time. After his mid-season knee injury, the Spurs’ vaunted defense was taken down a peg, even though it was still by far the leagues best. Duncan just could not man the middle on half a leg.
Even with Duncan as slow and aged as ever, the Spurs were a couple blown calls away from a match-up with the 72 win Warriors in the WCF. The Thunder just squeaked passed the Spurs in games two and five in last years season ending series, and Duncan’s irrelevance is hard to ignore.
Duncan had no response to Adams’ strength, Ibaka’s versatility, or Kanter’s size, largely due to his now wiry 40 year old frame. His legs were old, his knees were shot, his rotations were late, his shots were flat, his time… had finally come.
Then all the sudden in game six of the series, which the Thunder jumped out to a commanding lead and were almost certainly going to win, something happened in Duncan. Deep down he might have known it was going to be his last game ever, but he gave it absolutely everything he had. He led a vicious comeback even when most Spurs fans had already given up.
Finally, he ran a pick and role where Kawhi hit him with a pocket pass and he had a whole lane to drive on a rotating Ibaka. Scoring here would have cut the lead to just nine points with three minutes left in the 4th. Instead Ibaka stuffed Duncan, he fell to the floor, and the Thunder went right down and scored, a four-point-swing that ended the Spurs historic 67 win season.
That play symbolized Duncan’s last year in San Antonio. He still did all the right things and had vet savvy to lead, but could not force his body to be young. Just being out there, held everyone back. He put more pressure on Aldridge in the post, having to bang more to make up for Duncan.
However, the real burden was put on Leonard. The Spurs could never be Kawhi’s team with Duncan on the roster. You cannot really feel like the leader of the team if the guy who paved the way for the franchise is right next to you. With Parker and Ginobili used to following Duncan for their whole career, Kawhi will finally get to be the absolute focus of the Spurs with Duncan gone.
Duncan is going to be involved with the Spurs’ coaching staff in some regard, which is ideal for the Spurs organization. Duncan no longer has to drag his body through a physical game to help the Spurs. His best trait over the last couple years has been his team building skills. Witnessing the leader of the organization throwing his arm around a guy makes you want to do the same.
Dejounte Murray and other incoming Spurs will be able to lean on Duncan for veteran guidance, even though he is not playing.
Although Duncan’s defense was great last year, his age prevented him form really contributing while on the floor. Off the floor, Duncan was irreplaceable. His leadership and team bonding skills will be still guide the Spurs, even if he is not on the active roster.
Given his current physical condition, moving on was not only best for Duncan, but for the Spurs too.