By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:17PM
The one thing the world probably knows about Tim Duncan's post-NBA career is that it won't be spent negotiating contracts for other players. After all, he wasn't exactly a real-life version of Jerry Maguire in carving out a new three-year deal with the Spurs.
"I'm an awful negotiator," Duncan said with a grin. "My agent was mad at me the whole time. I'm not going anywhere though. I've been here for so long. This is home for me.
"I hoped that we could get it done. Sat down with Pop. He said, 'Do you want to get it done?' I said, yeah. He said, 'OK, let's go.' It was pretty easy."
What Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich eventually agreed on was a three-year, $30 million deal that puts the 13-time All-Star way down in the pack of NBA salaries this season ($9.6 million) and, in fact, makes him the fourth-highest paid player on his own team, behind Manu Ginobili ($14.1 million), Tony Parker ($12.5 million) and Stephen Jackson ($10.06 million).
But far more significantly, it kept the Spurs very high up in the conversation of Western Conference title contenders along with the defending champions from Oklahoma City, the reloaded Lakers and the surging Clippers.
For as long as Duncan is in the middle of the Spurs lineup -- and yes, he's their center, no matter how many times the team lists him in the boxscore at power forward -- and playing at the level of last season, San Antonio will be a force.
While it's true that Ginobili is still the straw that stirs the Spurs' drink with his hellbent style of play and Parker has become the No. 1 option and weapon in their offense, Duncan is still the eye of the hurricane around which everything swirls.
There might have been a time a couple of seasons back when it was unimaginable to Duncan that he would even think about signing a contract that would push him to the cusp of his 40th birthday. But after Popovich managed his minutes to a career-low of just over 28 per game the past two seasons, he is playing without pain in his knees and with a renewed feeling of optimism.
"I was so healthy and I felt so good last year, it wasn't really a thought," Duncan said. "I hope to have another year like that. I hope to have another three years like that. And I hope to even question it after that. I doubt that part of it, but I hope I feel that good at the end of this contract. The way I felt and the way I was getting up and down and the way I was moving ... I had no doubt I'd play a couple more."
Though the Spurs no longer build their offense on going through Duncan with a pound-it-inside-out style, he can still use his solid fundamental skills to take advantage of mismatches in the low post, challenge penetrating opponents in the middle and rebound effectively. He averaged 15.4 points and nine rebounds a season ago. The last time he walked off the court in a game, Duncan had scored 25 points and collected 14 rebounds in Game 6 of the Spurs playoff ouster by the Thunder, a defeat that still gnaws at him and the rest of the veterans.
"We all hate losing," Duncan said. "We all hate coming out here and feeling like we wasted our time. That's why you want to put it all on the floor and do the best that we can."
The truth is that Duncan would not have returned if he didn't believe that the Spurs -- even with their aging Big Three -- could realistically engage in the battle to get back to the NBA Finals for the fifth time in his career.
"All these teams are getting all kinds of different guys," he said. "We need to be consistent in the fact that we can be a good defensive ball club and we can build on that.
"That's some huge talent, All-Stars (the Lakers) added to their squad. They've got work to do just like us. They've got to get used to those guys. Good for them, I guess.
"They're bigger. They're more talented. All these teams are getting all kinds of different guys. We need to be consistent in the fact that we can be a good defensive ball club and we can build on that.
"We were right on the verge of getting back to the Finals. We feel we had every opportunity to do that. Hopefully, we can build on that this year and get back to that point."
Going into his 16th NBA season, Duncan is still a foundation player.
"I hope I feel that good at the end of this contract," he said.
Which would keep making the building plans in San Antonio high.
1. There will come a time when Tim Duncan (36), Manu Ginobili (35) and Tony Parker (30) are too old to make a playoff run. Won't there?
2. After diminishing returns from DeJuan Blair and inconsistency from Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw is the all-around skills man the Spurs need in the middle.
3. With the minutes of the Big Three being reined in, reserves such as Danny Green, Gary Neal and Splitter must kick in more off the bench.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
LAST YEAR: 50-16, 1st in Southwest
FINISH: Lost in Western Conference finals
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
TONY PARKER, POINT GUARD
18.3 PPG | 2.9 RPG | 7.7 APG
At 30, Parker is not only the quarterback of team, but has taken over the role of top gun in the offense. His 3-point shot remains touch-and-go, though.
DANNY GREEN, SHOOTING GUARD
9.1 PPG | 3.5 RPG | 1.3 APG
The journeyman Green can stick the 3-pointer, but must rebound from a scoring fade in the Western Conference finals vs. OKC that proved costly to the Spurs.
KAWHI LEONARD, SMALL FORWARD
7.9 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 1.1 APG
It's easier to pull teeth than words out of Leonard, but the do-it-all wing man can guard multiple positions as well as nail the jump shot. He's key to the Spurs' future.
TIM DUNCAN, POWER FORWARD
15.4 PPG | 9.0 RPG | 1.5 BPG
Aging gracefully in San Antonio ala David Robinson, Duncan can still lock down the interior -- he had at least one block in 30 games last season.
BORIS DIAW, CENTER
6.4 PPG | 4.9 RPG | 3.6 APG
Diaw's combination of rebounding, deft passing and crafty inside scoring translates perfectly to what the Spurs do across the board.
|Manu Ginobili||6-6||205||SG||At 35, still the straw that stirs the drink.|
|Stephen Jackson||6-8||220||SG||Just the right mix of edge and craziness to be effective.|
|Gary Neal||6-4||210||PG||Fearless sharpshooter has become valuable backup at the point.|
ADDED: F Derrick Byars, G Nando De Colo
LOST: G James Anderson
KAWHI LEONARD, SMALL FORWARD
The Big (and aging) Three of the Spurs will continue to pave the way in San Antonio. But when a coach like Gregg Popovich thinks you have a shot at being the future face of the team, everyone should take notice.
|Lob To Love|
Anderson Varejao lobs it inside to Kevin Love who finishes with the alley-oop dunk.
|Cavaliers vs. Bulls: First half|
LeBron James scores 19 points in the first half as the Cavaliers lead the Bulls 58-52.
|Strip And Slam|
LeBron James gets the strip and takes it all the way in for the slam.
Tony Wroten gets out in transition and blazes inside and Larry Sanders gets the big block at the rim.
|Parker Pummels It|
O.J. Mayo runs the break and lays it off to Jabari Parker who pounds home the nasty two-hand punch.