Tim Duncan is nearing the end of his famed career with the San Antonio Spurs, and with a maximum of two full seasons left, the dynasty that brought four championships to San Antonio has all but collapsed.
However, his retirement will the pave way for a new era to begin, and while the loss of Duncan will impact the team in the future, it will not leave them hopeless, as a lottery team in a state of fruitless rebuilding.
Even once the future Hal of Famer calls it quits, the Spurs will remain one of the league's better teams, and doubting them will be a huge mistake.
Because just as they are now, the future Spurs will be a dominant squad who are most definitely contenders.
The casual NBA fan may immediately associate the Spurs with "old," but contrary to common conception, the roster features an abundance of youngsters.
Second-year stud Kawhi Leonard leads the pack, having shown bright potential in his first year and a half in the league. Leonard has the makings to be a star, and has already established himself among the top perimeter defenders in the league.
Danny Green, the Spurs' Cinderella story of 2011-12, has also shown flashes of potential. The 25-year-old shooting guard is one of the league's best three-point shooters, and has also manifested a defensive aptitude in his short career.
Tiago Splitter, the team's starting center, is also on the rise, and though Duncan's shoes will be nearly impossible to fill, Splitter will prove to be a more than serviceable post option. He runs the pick-and-roll flawlessly and has added a collection of other post moves to his offensive game. He is also growing rapidly as a defender, and is among the league's best playmaking big men.
Other role players with high potential include Nando De Colo, Cory Joseph and Patty Mills—as well as international stars like Davis Bertans and Adam Hanga, whom the Spurs currently own the rights to.
Though none of the aforementioned—excluding Kawhi Leonard—has superstar potential, they are all dangerous role players, and in San Antonio's system, can help keep the future bright in San Antonio.
While a strong cast of supporting players will certainly help a team, they can only bring them so far.
In the game of basketball, every team needs a star, and luckily for the Spurs, they have one who is gradually accepting his role as the leader of the team.
Though Duncan's talent and leadership will be missed, 30-year-old Tony Parker brings 11 years of experience to the table, along with a surplus of talent.
Currently at the peak of his prime, Parker has shown that he is fully capable of carrying the team, as he did last year in his MVP-type season.
He is scoring at a high and efficient rate, while sharing the ball and keeping everybody involved.
Parker has superstar talent, and has already started to make the Spurs his team. As he continues to learn and grow as a player and a leader, Parker should have no trouble leading his team to success.
Over the past decade, the Spurs have gained a reputation for their ability to spot emerging talent from a mile away.
Though they never receive lottery picks in the NBA Draft, the Spurs have managed to acquire lottery-type players in the late first and second rounds.
Tony Parker was selected as the 28th overall pick in 2001, and has since developed into one of the best point guards in the game.
Perhaps even more impressive, Manu Ginobili was just five picks away from going undrafted before the Spurs snatched him up with one of the final selections of the second round.
The Argentinian star has gone from an overlooked abstraction to a potential Hall of Famer.
Aside from their top two success stories, the Spurs have nabbed George Hill, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic late in the draft, despite only hanging onto Hill.
Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair were also picked late, considering the amount of talent that they have shown.
If the Spurs can find a diamond in the rough in the next few draft classes, they should have no problem restocking for the future as they prepare to contend without Duncan.
Did Al Jefferson's picture catch your attention?
The Utah big man is set to enter the free-agency market along with numerous other quality players. The Spurs' loaded roster has given them little flexibility in the past, but recent pay cuts have ensured that they are under the luxury tax, and soon the cap, entirely.
Duncan recently took a pay cut, in which his per-year salary was sliced in half, allowing the Spurs to drop below the tax threshold.
Ginobili is facing a similar situation this offseason, and will presumably follow suit.
Stephen Jackson's $10 million contract also comes off the books following the season's end, ridding the Spurs of two of their three largest contracts.
What does that mean? It means, for the first time in a while, the Spurs have the opportunity to make a run at somebody.
Whether it's Al Jefferson, JJ Hickson or a big man available in future markets, the Spurs will be able to draw in players to accompany Parker and keep the franchise afloat.
When Duncan retires, the team will be forced to part with one of the greatest players to ever play the game. However, they'll still retain one of the greatest coaches in the game, at least for a short while.
Gregg Popovich is one of the league's most intelligent masterminds, constantly finding a way to get the most out of every player, even those who barely belong in the league.
His ability to dissect opponents and strategize to maximize the Spurs' chances at winning is unparalleled in this league.
He has not had the fortune to work with a single lottery pick since Duncan, yet the defending Coach of the Year has produced numerous All-Star and Rookie of the Year candidates throughout his formation of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty.
He'll continue to help Parker develop into one of the league's top players, and with his guidance, Kawhi Leonard should fully reach his potential, if not exceed it altogether.
Though they will have to work hard to maintain the reputation that they've built, as long as Popovich is with the San Antonio Spurs, you can never count them out as contenders.