5 Steps to Keeping San Antonio Spurs' Dynasty Alive Post-Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs, not surprisingly, are rolling once again and look to be one of the best—if not the best—teams headed into the playoffs. At age 37, Tim Duncan is somehow still churning out brilliant performance after brilliant performance, and those waiting for the Spurs to look vulnerable will have to keep waiting.
But what happens when Duncan finally retires? Without the pillar for one of the most successful dynasties in professional sports, how will the Spurs keep chugging along?
At this point, it's not a question of how much longer Duncan can keep playing, after all, but rather how long he wants to. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports! is the latest reporter to try and nail down Duncan's future, but Duncan might not even know himself:
"When asked if he'd honor his contract through next season, Tim Duncan said he's taking it 'game by game.'"
That's the thing about Duncan. There isn't going to be some grand farewell tour with emotional goodbyes and tons of buildup. He'll walk away quietly whenever he's ready with plenty of dignity.
That being said, you have to think that if the Spurs win the title this year, Duncan will leave the game on top, and Gregg Popovich and Manu Ginobili probably won't be far behind.
Let's take a look at five ways San Antonio can keep it going without the greatest power forward to ever play the game.
Convince Pop to Stay
Convincing Gregg Popovich to continue coaching once Tim Duncan hangs them up will be the clear-cut top priority, but also incredibly unlikely.
Here's what Popovich told Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation about how Duncan will retire, and what he might do when that happens:
When he [Duncan] doesn't think he can, he'll stop. It might be in the middle of a game. I can see him walking off the court saying, 'Nah, I'm not pulling my weight anymore. I'm gone.' And he'll walk. And I'll be right behind him, like this. No pride, no nothing.
It seems fitting that Duncan and Popovich will leave the game together, since all their professional success has come next to one another.
While there's no doubt Popovich could certainly keep coaching, since he's been the best in the game for quite some time now with no signs of slowing down, it seems more likely that he would retire and hand over the franchise. Undoubtedly, the Spurs would have the pick of the litter for their new coach, since Popovich's coaching tree has tons of talent within it.
The Spurs front office will obviously respect whatever decision he makes and will be prepared to move on elsewhere, but trying to keep one of the greatest coaches ever by any means necessary will be even more important once a steadying star like Duncan is no longer in the picture.
Find Another Rim Protector
Let's make one thing clear: There's no replacing Tim Duncan. Whoever takes his minutes won't be as productive, and whoever fills his role won't be a better leader or example for his teammates to emulate. It just won't happen.
That doesn't mean the Spurs need to fold up shop, though, and blow it up and rebuild everything. There is something great established here, and we've seen in the past that San Antonio can have plenty of sustained success without Duncan on the floor.
Over the course of a full season and in the upcoming years, however, the Spurs will need to find someone to shore up the interior defense. Perhaps the most notable thing about Duncan's play over the last few years has been how well he's protected the rim and cleaned up the defensive glass. Even when his offense has slipped a tiny bit (but not much), Duncan has always bolstered his team on the other end.
While Tiago Splitter is a good defensive player who eats up space and is pretty mobile, the Spurs will need to provide him with help on that side of the floor. Great perimeter defense will cover up a lot, and the Spurs have that in spades with Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, but finding another player who can block shots and secure defensive rebounds at a high rate should be a priority.
The Spurs have shifted to more of an offense-first sort of team over the last few seasons, and losing Duncan will be a big blow that could put their defense in a dangerous spot. Again, finding someone as smart and as solid as Duncan will be impossible, but the Spurs will need to try.
The Spurs have already ratcheted up the pace in recent years after playing half-court basketball almost solely during Duncan's prime. The change in speed brought on a great deal of success, as San Antonio regularly sports one of the league's best offenses to go with a stout defense.
Once Duncan retires, though, the Spurs will have to tweak their identity even more. Without Duncan facilitating from the high post, setting perfect screens, spacing the floor with his jumper and scoring from the block, the Spurs will have to rely a little less on perfect execution and a little more on their athleticism overpowering opponents.
The Spurs are currently 11th in the league in pace factor, but during the previous two seasons, they were sixth and seventh, respectively. With Tony Parker still functioning as one of the fastest guards in the league, and with some great athletic shooters on the wing, the Spurs will be perfectly set up to run a transition-oriented offense, so long as the team can continue to get stops and rebounds without Duncan on the floor.
Without a reliable post threat offensively, the Spurs will have less incentive to walk it up and more incentive to get threes and layups at the rim with an even faster style. If Duncan and Popovich (and maybe Ginobili as well) all leave, it will be time to exploit Parker's biggest strength first and foremost, and that's his ability to get in the lane and wreak havoc with all his speed.
Re-Sign Boris Diaw
Maybe you had a bigger name in mind to take the majority of Duncan's minutes, but Boris Diaw will keep a lot of the wonderful offensive continuity the Spurs have established firmly in place.
Diaw's unreal passing ability and solid perimeter and post defense make him invaluable to the Spurs, as he can generate offense from areas on the floor very few big men can. Diaw will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but regardless of Duncan's decision, he should be re-signed.
There's a strong chance Diaw follows in the footsteps of the other Spurs and takes a salary well below his worth to stay on board. San Antonio is the perfect basketball environment for Diaw's unique skills, and his relationship with fellow Frenchman Tony Parker should go a long way in keeping him around.
Diaw has had some of the best years of his career in San Antonio as well, so it just feels incredibly unlikely that he'll see another situation as being more beneficial to his career.
There may be a temptation to rebuild, get even younger or bring on a big-name star in the frontcourt, but Diaw is a glue guy who can help the Spurs retain their identity on both ends and make the loss of Duncan less of a major adjustment than it needs to be. The Spurs will need a player who can help protect the rim and rebound, but that should be a supplement to what Diaw brings, not a replacement.
There is no need for panic. Tim Duncan's retirement, as spontaneous as it very well may end up being, won't be something San Antonio's front office hasn't planned for. It's had years and years to prepare for the end of this era.
It would be completely out of character for the Spurs to make drastic changes in light of Duncan's departure, right? There's a system in place here. Why would the Spurs buck against everything they've built and established, both schematically and in terms of personality, just because one player left? The whole thing that has made San Antonio so great is that the whole means more than the individual parts.
Besides, not giving the players Duncan has mentored over the years a chance to compete without him would be a sort of betrayal on its own, right?
That's not to say that the Spurs shouldn't react accordingly to Duncan's retirement when it happens. They just shouldn't overreact. A few outside reinforcements will probably be necessary, but wholesale changes won't. At least give the rest of the roster and Parker a chance to compete for a title for a year before doing anything too drastic. That doesn't seem like it's too much to ask.
No matter how the rest of this season plays out and what Duncan's decision ultimately is, there's no need to panic. Even without a true legend of the game, the Spurs should remain calm and carry on.