The possibility of Tim Duncan retiring after the 2013-14 season is not a matter of declining effectiveness but strictly of a man advanced in years.
In mid-February, the 17-year power forward of the San Antonio Spurs squashed rumors of impending retirement that were brought to light by former NBA coach George Karl. According to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, Duncan said, "I'd like to know who [Karl] talked to. I don't know what I'm going to do so I don't know how he knows what I'm going to do."
But what if Duncan actually did retire following the conclusion of his 17th playoff run, and how would the Spurs fill the enormous void?
San Antonio could simply try to find a frontcourt match for Tiago Splitter, but considering he is a starter largely because he complements Duncan, the team could instead look for a new center. Plus, the front office would be able to pursue a big-name forward, since Duncan's eventual retirement clears upward of $10 million dollars (h/t HoopsHype) per season.
Should Duncan walk off the court for the final time, the Spurs have plenty of reasonable options to explore.
Sign a Different Center, Start Fresh
Splitter is a decent defender and solid rebounder, but his production can be replaced. One of the biggest assets he provides is his familiarity with Duncan, but if The Big Fundamental is gone, the team could choose to move Splitter elsewhere.
Of course, the Spurs gave Splitter a four-year, $36 million extension last summer, and that contract would not be easy to unload on another team.
Marcin Gortat is another impending unrestricted free agent, but his current team, the Washington Wizards, should aggressively try to keep him. However, if Gortat tests the market and sees a promising opportunity in San Antonio, he could return to the Western Conference.
By signing Gortat, the Spurs have the option to trade Splitter for, say, a reserve forward and a second-round draft pick. In this case, the Spurs' starting lineup would consist of Gortat, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tony Parker and either Jeff Ayres or a re-signed Boris Diaw while the franchise waits for 2013 draftee Livio Jean-Charles to develop.
Shipping Splitter to another franchise is certainly the unlikeliest of scenarios, but it is a possibility to consider.
Find a Frontcourt Match for Tiago Splitter
Splitter is a fantastic complement to Duncan, but—not that anyone has considered him as such—he is far from a franchise center. Splitter needs to be paired with a power forward who is a legitimate offensive weapon.
Ilyasova is a streaky player, but surrounding him with talent like San Antonio's would help him evolve into a more consistent force.
An issue surrounding Ilyasova, however, is that the Bucks have the Turkish power forward locked up for a few years, holding a team option for the 2016-17 season. Acquiring the 26-year-old would be difficult for the Spurs, as Milwaukee would likely prefer receiving a guard and a couple draft picks in return.
Which potential acquisition would you prefer?
What plays in San Antonio's favor, however, is Ilyasova reportedly wants out of Milwaukee, according to the Journal Times (h/t Pro Basketball Talk). And if the frustrated forward wants out badly enough, the Bucks' management might be compelled to demand a little bit less.
Conversely, Hawes' contract expires after the current campaign, making the 25-year-old an unrestricted free agent. Hawes is known for his outstanding range, and he is shooting a career-high 41.6 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Most impressively, Hawes has only taken 6.6 percent of his shot attempts from 16 to 24 feet in 2013-14. Hawes forgoes deep two-pointers and either stays near the rim or behind the three-point line, which is a main factor in his career 46.5 percent shooting clip.
With San Antonio, Hawes would be a perfect pick-and-pop offensive threat—basically a more talented and dangerous Boris Diaw.
Acquire a Big-Name Forward, Namely...
Pau Gasol. Get that guy.
Currently surviving a brutal campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol will be a free agent this offseason and is looking to join a contender.
My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations. It couldn't be any other way. I want to be on a team with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it. I would like to win another championship. The financial side comes second at this stage of my career.
Now, my intent is not to start a Gasol-to-San Antonio rumor, but I will consider being the manager for a campaign.
At age 33, Gasol is having the best all-around year of his career, averaging 19.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.7 blocks and 0.5 steals per 36 minutes. Each stat is comparable to Duncan's numbers, and their respective usage rates—26.4 percent for Gasol and 25.6 percent for Duncan—mean they receive nearly identical offensive touches per game.
With that being said, signing Gasol is essentially a stop-gap. In other words, it delays the inevitability of needing a younger power forward for a couple more seasons.
Ultimately, Gasol is one of the best potential options to smoothly transition to the post-Duncan era of San Antonio basketball should the future Hall of Famer retire after the 2013-14 season.
* All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.