The San Antonio Spurs are are notorious hard-ballers when it comes to free agents (Richard Jefferson excluded), and Tim Duncan, the fundamental anchor of their organization, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in just a few months time. So why is it that Duncan—now with more theoretical leverage than ever, in light of San Antonio's spectacular play this season—did the one thing that impending free agents are never supposed to do? Via the tremendous Johnny Ludden of Yahoo Sports:
Duncan now says it's realistic to expect him to play another year or two. Three or four years, he thinks, would be a stretch, even in his improved condition. This much is certain: He has little interest in testing the free-agent market when his contract ends after this season, negotiating leverage be damned.
"Though I shouldn't say that; I have to threaten them that I'll leave," he joked. "No … I'm not going anywhere. You can print that wherever you want to. I'm here and I'm a Spur for life."
The answer: This isn't the case of a free agent. This is the case of Tim Duncan, and it is a highly unique case indeed.
Painting Duncan's comments as some kind of strategic blunder misses the point; other players and teams may need to concern themselves with free-agent facades, but this is a relationship built on far more than posturing and financial bottom lines.
Duncan is inherently the kind of person to take a pay cut if it means improving his team's chances, and though San Antonio may make most of its signings (rookies included) negotiate for every dollar and privilege, this current and future Spur isn't even remotely in the same boat.
All other possible examples are dwarfed by the context and singularity of this particular pairing, as there's enough mutual respect between this man and his current team to solidify a decade-old culture.
In the NBA, there are stars, superstars, assets, cornerstones, x-factors, centerpieces and a million variations thereof. And then, somewhere off in the distance, is Duncan, who not only stands as one of the finest to ever grace the hardwood, but as perhaps the most uniquely dependable franchise-building commodity the league has ever seen.
This is an exceptional case in every possible regard. And though on first glance Duncan would appear to have conceded the upper hand with a new big-money extension at stake, all he's done is pledge allegiance to the empire he helped build.