Should Duncan Retire?
*Photo via SLAM
This postseason, things actually didn’t go the way it usually does for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 113-99 in Game 6 of their Western Conference semi-finals round, eliminating one of the most successful organizations in sports from the postseason.
No one expected a blowout loss; no one expected the Spurs to lose in that kind of fashion. No one expected the Spurs to lose! (At least not this suddenly). With the opportunity of a Game 7 as a possibility, this series was supposed to go to a Game 7 where Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich would develop the blueprint to send the superstar spearheaded Thunder home packing and catapult the Spurs, once again, in position to compete for the gold. For once, the beauty that is Spurs basketball, on both ends, wasn’t enough to halt the enthusiasm, excitement, relentless energy, and determination that a Russell Westbrook brings to the table.
It wasn’t enough to slow down the height and the super-human powers that Kevin Durant displays. This time around, youth and experience won while age and experience failed. And the youth that the Spurs did boast in Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge just weren’t ready enough to be their front-runners. To be honest, that’s asking a lot out of their top tier 2015 free agent signee and rising star wing. But then again, when you play for a team like the Spurs or you agree to join this team, you should know what you’re getting into.
Aldridge was signed to continue the excellence that Tim Duncan has given to this franchise for the better part of a decade and it doesn’t matter who you bring in, that’s a tough act to follow. Duncan will probably go down as the greatest power forward of all-time, when he decides to call it quits and the loss to the Thunder has brought the question to the surface. Should Duncan retire or come back for one more crack at the title?
Now this isn’t Kobe playing with a bunch of lottery picks, in a lost, farewell season that was this past year. This is Duncan with Tony Parker, possibly Manu Ginobili, Aldridge and Leonard for just one more season to go for it all. But maybe the loss to the Thunder proved one thing: if the Spurs can’t beat the Thunder as presently constructed, how are they going to get past the Golden State Warriors? The team which has probably surpassed the New England Patriots and the “Dallas Cowboys” as America’s team. There’s two sides to the story as far as Duncan’s future is concerned. Here’s both:
The Retired Duncan
*Photo via Getty Images
For starters, there would be no farewell tour to celebrate the 19 years of service that Duncan gave to the game. In Duncan’s first season, he made the All-Star team averaging 21.1 ppg and 11.9 rpg on 54% shooting from the field, all at the age of 21 years old. When most of his peers were partying in college, missing classes, and worrying about mid-terms, Duncan was blossoming in the first year of his NBA career. Besides the NBA lockout year, Duncan hasn’t missed an All-Star game since 2012, 2014, and this past year. So if you do the math, that’s 15 All-Star appearances in 19 years—pretty darn good.
Duncan is currently ranked 14th overall in points scored all-time in NBA history with 26,496 above John Havlicek and below Dominique Wilkins. In rebounds, Duncan is ranked 6th all-time with 15,091 boards, according to espn.com ahead of NBA legends like Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley. During those 19 years, Duncan prevented numerous stars from winning championships, such as Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, and more and along the way, picking up five titles with the crew. There’s MVP awards, first team All-NBA selections, Finals MVPs, and first team All-NBA defense selections—the usual stuff that greats seem to have stacked up on their resume.
If Duncan decides to call it quits then we, the world, won’t be able to show him the love he deserves for being the perfect ambassador for the game. For giving the game 100% every time he touched the hardwood. For being a villain and not caring about public perception. For being all about basketball. For being a champion, and most of all, for being Tim Duncan. As fans we take our stars for granted. When the greatest of us do things we could never dream of doing and they slip up, we fans and the media are the first to criticize at an attempt to bring them down to our level. It makes us feel human and it gives us someone to point the finger at but what would we do without them? Duncan never had the explosiveness of a Kevin Garnett at his position or the flair of Shaq on the low-block, but one thing you cannot say about the all-time great is that he didn’t create playoff memories that we will remember forever.
Duncan won the NBA championship against the New Jersey Nets in 2003, adding the season and the finals MVP awards in the same year. How about leading the Spurs to an NBA championship during his 2nd year in the league, scoring 31 points in Game 5, to seal the series clinching win against the New York Knicks in 1999. Duncan didn’t just win that first championship for himself, beginning his legacy, but he also helped David Robinson collect some gold as he received the torch from “The Admiral.” What about putting up a career-high 53 points on the Dallas Mavericks in 2001, going 19-28 from the field and shooting perfect from the line, hitting all 15 of his free throws. What about having the “the juice” to end the dominance of the Kobe and Shaq led Los Angeles Lakers in 03? What about beating that great team that the Detroit Pistons boasted in the mid-2000’s?
When you talk about Duncan, there is no one who is more battle-tested than the 40 year-old, and for someone who has won and lost their share of title-fights, Duncan should be celebrated. Celebrated just like how Kobe was this season. If Duncan leaves now, we won’t get that chance. There will be no bigger news if he announces his decision to leave the game of basketball in the present but it won’t be as grand as if he chooses to lace them up for one last season. If Duncan drops the mic, sure ESPN will report it. All of his peers will come out of the woodworks to pour out their hearts to their favorite no. 21 and for someone who would rather physically play the game than accept an award, Duncan would probably want it that way anyway.
If Duncan Stays for One More Season
*Photo via IBI Times
If Duncan stays for one more season, he will go out the way champions do—like a champion. He would go out swinging, fighting, sporting the Spurs logo on his chest, and there’s no better team to go out swinging with. If you want to put your faith in a GM, invest it in R.C. Buford. He’s the exec that found Ginobili in the second round, found Leonard and signed Aldridge, so if anyone can field a team to help give Duncan one last chance at chasing title no. six, it would be Buford. And who knows, maybe there could be a Kevin Durant signing, just speculating.
Like Kobe, every city will be well aware to seize the moment and reap praise upon Duncan and honor him and who knows what each team will do to show their appreciation for one of the NBA’s greatest players. The Spurs will most definitely compete for a playoff spot and that’s what the storylines are waiting for. “Duncan’s last bid for 6,” or “Chasing Six in the Grand Finale,” is what I foresee as the headlines regarding Duncan and it will be must-see TV. Whether he wins or loses, Duncan will be celebrated and when you treat the game as well as Duncan has, it’s only right that he gets a going away party better than a costume party.
*Photo via USA Today
Duncan should stay. That lasting visual of seeing Duncan leave the court of Chesapeake Energy Arena with his head down and right hand lifted, pointed towards the sky shouldn’t be the last image we remember of Duncan. I want to remember Duncan as the champion he is, helping his team get a top seed during the regular season and fighting in the playoffs to potentially challenge the pool to tie Michael Jordan in bling. As the Thunder have advanced to play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Duncan will have a lot of time to make up his mind and I can’t help but think how much being eliminated and going out this way is eating at his heart.