Spurs’ Tim Duncan doesn’t sound like he’s finished
“Ooh, really?” Duncan sarcastically asked. “My bad. I was in your way. I was in your way. My bad.”
The two San Antonio Spurs enjoyed a laugh afterward.
While the 15-year NBA veteran with four championships and two league MVP awards has nothing more to prove in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, Duncan’s passion for playing is higher than ever. He is still having fun and retirement doesn’t appear on the horizon as long as he’s healthy and effective on the floor.
“I love playing,” Duncan told Yahoo! Sports. “I’m a competitor. So my enjoyment level is real high.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that San Antonio (38-14), winners of nine straight heading into Friday, has the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Duncan is making $21.1 million in the final year of his contract and is expected to either re-sign with the only franchise he’s known or retire after this season.
Family might be the ultimate tug that gets Duncan out of the NBA. The 35-year-old says at “some point” not wanting to be away from his two children for long periods will be a big factor in when he walks away.
As for actual retirement plans …
“I don’t really worry about that part of it,” Duncan said.
The 6-foot-11, 260-pounder is averaging 14.9 points and 9.1 rebounds this season in just 28.3 minutes per game. He wasn’t an All-Star for the first time in his career and the Spurs even listed “old” as the reason he was given the night off in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 25. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is it for Duncan. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Duncan has aided his longevity with daily knee maintenance that includes wearing a brace off the floor.
“I thought I prepared well and was in great shape coming in,” Duncan said. “I’ve felt good throughout.”
The younger Spurs on the team are helping keep Duncan’s mind fresh. San Antonio has nine players with a maximum of two seasons of experience, including three rookies.
“It’s fun having a bunch of new guys, seeing them interact,” Duncan said. “You feel like the old guy sometimes. But I got some old heads with me, too, so it’s good.”
“Old head” Tony Parker has played a major role in taking scoring pressure off Duncan. Parker is averaging team-highs of 19.3 points and a 7.9 assists, the latter a career-high. Popovich said Parker returned to the Spurs a much stronger leader after helping carry France to an Olympic berth last summer. And Duncan has stepped out of the way, not letting ego get in the way of the team’s needs, something he learned from former teammate David Robinson.
“That’s why I respect Timmy so much,” Parker said. “He’s an NBA star who is so unselfish. He doesn’t care if me or Manu [Ginobili] take shots and do our thing. He was willing because he knew to win championships we need everybody in. He was all about team concepts.”
Duncan’s bond with Popovich on and off the floor is also keeping him from calling it quits.
“He’s everything,” Duncan said. “He has been the perfect coach for me. He understands what I need even if I don’t understand as a player what I need health-wise and time-wise. He continues to push me. He gets on my ass. He allows me to be a player, and at the same time I’m learning every day.”
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The inevitable end of Duncan’s reign in San Antonio isn’t lost on the Spurs. Parker talks to Duncan about it occasionally during team bus rides. The tone of the conversation is filled with more uncertainty than sadness.
“He doesn’t know how many years he wants to play,” Parker said. “But it’s going to be weird the day he retires. It’s going to be very different in San Antonio.”
Said Popovich: “We’ve been together for so long. Fifteen years now. It has gone through my head, but I don’t allow myself to think about what that’s going to mean. I’ll just deal with it when it happens.”
Even Tim Duncan isn’t looking at life after the game. His head is still in it, to the delight of Stephen Jackson and his playful smacks.
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