Life after Timmy D - How will the San Antonio Spurs move on?
San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) passes to teammate Kawhi Leonard, front, as new signing Pau Gasol (16), of Spain, watch, during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in San Antonio. The trio is expected to banner the Tim Duncan-less Spurs this season. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
“How do you move on after the end of an era?”
That is the question the San Antonio Spurs and their fans will begin to answer come opening day of the 2016-17 NBA Season.
Last July 11, 2016, “The Big Fundamental,” the cornerstone of the Spurs for the past two decades, finally called it a career. There was no fanfare, no year-long spectacle. Just a press release, followed by a simple letter to Spurs fans, thanking them for everything. Duncan ended his career the way he played all 1,392 games - simple, effective, and with nothing but love for the game and those that watched him play it.
From the moment he was drafted first overall in 1997, Duncan changed the franchise. His talent, leadership, and passion for the game transformed the organization into one of the winningest franchises in the last two decades. His partnership with Coach Gregg Popovich, and the selfless and character-driven culture they built in San Antonio, together with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, made them one of the most respected and admired organizations in recent history.
Calling his resume “impressive” might be an understatement. Duncan is a five-time NBA champion, a two-time MVP, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, a 15-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA team selection, a 15-time All-Defensive team selection, and Rookie of the Year. He’s also the Spurs’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, minutes played, and games played, and the only NBA player to log over 9,000 minutes in the postseason, leading the league in postseason double-doubles and blocks. All of those have him in the conversation of “Best Power Forward to ever play the game.”
So how DO you replace someone like Tim Duncan? Honestly, you cannot. But the Spurs, being the winning organization that they are, prepared for his departure as best as they could.
Last year, they signed LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the best scoring forwards in the league. This offseason, they added Pau Gasol, another all-time great big man, whose passing skills and unselfish mentality makes him another great fit in Pop’s system.
Gasol is another proven winner, a two-time NBA champion whose career numbers (18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 51.0 FG%), are quite similar to that of Duncan’s (19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 50.6 FG%).
In addition to those two, Ginobili, the 39-year-old Argentinian legend, is back for one more season. Despite the diminished athleticism, Manu still brings great competitiveness and brilliant playmaking off the bench. Ditto for Tony Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s “Big Three” at 34. Though he is no longer mentioned in the same breath as the top point guards in the league, Parker is still very capable of an All-Star level performance on any given night.
But despite those big names, there’s hardly any question as to whose team this is moving forward, and that’s Kawhi “The Claw” Leonard, the best (and youngest!) all-around player on the roster.
A two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP, Leonard is best known for his shut-down defense, able to hold his own against the LeBron’s, Durant’s, and Curry’s of the league. At the same time though, he was the Spurs’ leading scorer last season with 21.2 ppg. Since his rookie season, Leonard has quietly upped his scoring average each year, and last season, his three-point shooting took a huge leap to 44.3 percent, tops for his team. At age 24, the sky is the limit for Leonard, and with his emotionless, no-frills, and almost Duncan-like demeanor, he’ll be a great fit for the mantle of face of the Spurs.
The 2016-17 season will definitely be one of adjustment for the Spurs. You don’t lose a sure-fire Hall of Famer without experiencing a period of transition. But having witnessed the continued excellence of this franchise over the last two decades, having seen the coaching brilliance of Popopvich, and looking at the talent and depth still on this roster, life after Timmy D will be tough to adjust to, but it definitely won’t be be bleak.
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