The Spurs brass waited. And waited. And waited.
General Manager R.C. Buford wondered if he would ever get the answer he wanted.
The untimely nature of Manu Ginobili's injuries—two years worth—punctuated early playoff exits.
As the calendar flipped to 2010, it became increasingly possible the San Antonio Spurs' most popular player would earn a paycheck as some other franchise's most popular player next season.
Then, he rediscovered the indefensible game that helped the team win multiple championships in the 2000s. That forced Buford to put Herb Rudoy, Ginobili's agent, on speed dial.
Less than a week after the ink dried on Kobe Bryant's three-year, $90 million extension, the Spurs locked up their Argentine fan favorite.
Since the All-Star break, no player has been better than Ginobili.
Ginobili's three-year extension will pay him close to $40 million, according to reports from Yahoo! Sports and the San Antonio Express-News.
Bryant will make an exorbitant $32 million in the final year of his deal.
Ginobili will make $14 million—comparatively less but still pricey—in the final year of his.
The future Hall of Famers will be 35 and 36, respectively, when their contracts expire.
Whether they will retire after the completion of these deals remains to be seen.
B/R colleague Andrew Ungvari wrote a terrific piece on how Bryant's extended stay impacts the Lakers future.
I decided I should write one about the Spurs and Ginobili.
The risk factor was much higher for San Antonio's front office.
Pledging at least three additional years to Bryant was a no-brainer for GM Mitch Kupchak. Did anyone really think he was going to jump ship this summer, go to New Jersey or another team with gobs of cap space, and take Phil Jackson with him?
Give me a break.
Ginobili has spent much of the last two years on the injured list. He injured his groin and an ankle during the 2008 playoffs. His hobbled state was a big reason the Lakers beat the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in five games.
He re-injured his ankle in the Beijing Olympics. A stress reaction in his right leg ended his season last March.
Buford tendered the maximum offer allowed for an eight-year veteran, knowing the guard could suffer another season-ending setback five games into the 2010-2011 campaign.
He also had no choice.
A group of season-ticket holders advised management what they would do if Ginobili's pending free agency ended with him in another uniform: "No Manu, no renew."
Ginobili likely brought Buford and owner Peter Holt to their knees with a combined 75 points last weekend in games against the Magic and Lakers.
Those squads met in the 2009 NBA Finals.
The Spurs beat both teams convincingly.
Popovich suddenly had optimism his roster could do more than get lucky in a first round series.
Ginobili's crisp and superb passing also helped Richard Jefferson come along in the Spurs system. He has played his best basketball in a San Antonio uniform over the last two months.
Rookie Dejuan Blair already owed more than 50 percent of his baskets to pinpoint finds from Ginobili.
How could Holt justify letting him test the market, when his departure would likely have crippled the franchise?
Tim Duncan keeps the team humming. He remains the foundation of a championship hopeful.
Ginobili sells tickets and remains the squad's No. 1 option in the clutch. Re-signing him now was almost as important as re-signing Duncan in 2000.
For at least one more year, the superstar core of Tony Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan will chase the NBA crown as teammates.
A number of things could happen in the next three years, the most important and likely being a work stoppage.
A lockout would end the Spurs reign as perennial contenders for good and force Buford to rebuild when play resumed.
I'd bet that Duncan wouldn't return from a one-year absence.
Can anyone argue the league has recovered from the 1999 lockout?
David Stern lost a lot of fans, and the Bulls have failed to win a second round series since that summer or angst.
Derrick Rose's All-Star selection was the first for a Chicago player since Jordan called it quits.
I shouldn't have to explain how the above gloom relates to the Spurs.
The Spurs will not enjoy a glowing future after Duncan. "We're screwed," Popovich has said bluntly.
Losing an all-time great carries gigantic consequences. It's doubtful this will develop into another David Robinson-to-Duncan situation.
Sans-pareil serendipity allowed the Spurs to pick first when Duncan and Robinson were consensus number one choices. They could have won the draft lottery in the year of Michael Olowokandi or Danny Manning.
Sorry, Clippers fans.
No one in the Spurs organization would deny that the word "luck" should precede "shrewd" in any discussion of the franchise's prodigiousness.
With Duncan a few years away from hanging up his sneakers, it made no sense to let one of the team's two international stars—who had propped open his championship window after Robinson left—sniff out other employers with so many willing bidders determined to use cap space this summer.
Ginobili has earned the right to retire alongside Duncan. The completed extension ensures he will retire a Spur.
The $15 million free agent contract Antonio McDyess signed last summer concludes in three years. He might opt to retire with one year left on the deal.
George Hill, Dejuan Blair, and Malik Hairston will likely constitute the top youngsters on the squad when Duncan says farewell.
Add Tiago Splitter to that list if he decides to head to the NBA before then.
That is another mess, worthy of another column. A looming lockout could keep him overseas for the rest of Duncan's career.
Richard Jefferson is signed through next season. Matt Bonner, a free agent this summer, remains a possible rotation fixture.
Ian Mahinmi is gone. Ditto for Roger Mason, who needs to all the money he can before the next collective bargaining agreement screws him.
Keith Bogans has shown enough defensive prowess to merit a second look.
How could the brass justify not keeping Ginobili in the mix?
The exit of the player Brent Barry dubbed "El Contusion" would have slammed Duncan's title window shut. It might have forced a premature retirement.
The Spurs were not going to replace Ginobili.
You can't replace special players.
With more than $50 million already committed to McDyess, Duncan, Jefferson, and Parker next year, Ginobili's added salary gives Buford even less flexibility to make roster moves.
The best-case scenario: Splitter makes the jump and fulfills expectations and the Spurs unearth another contributor in the draft.
Ginobili could injure himself again, even if he decides to stay away from the Argentina National Team and this summer's World Championships.
With the obvious risk comes a high reward.
As of now, the Ginobili of 2010 is worthy every penny he will collect.
The collective sigh of relief from anxious Spurs fans may not blow as strong as that of the Lakers faithful did last week.
Still, you won't miss it.
Holt can also breathe easier. That feisty group of season ticket holders will need another reason to hold out on renewing for next season.
Jeff Van Gundy said on a recent ESPN telecast he would buy San Antonio season tickets just to watch Ginobili compete.
This fan and thousands of others can say the same.
At long last, the Spurs and Ginobili can stop the waiting game.
More than $38 million worth of closure makes that possible.
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