Tim Duncan's Return Gives San Antonio Spurs Clear Path Back to NBA Finals

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

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The San Antonio Spurs know exactly how to keep a good thing going.

They haven't simply found a way to survive with an aging core; they've arguably improved with time.

When results are this sweet—15 consecutive 50-win seasons, five world titles since 1999—then the recipe should not be questioned. The Spurs have something incredibly special going on, something that seems to shape up well for a third straight run to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs will no longer have revenge serving as their guide back to the championship round, but greed could prove to be an equally effective motivation. With a high ceiling and small window, they can and should attack the NBA hardwood with a gluttonous appetite for success.

That window won't stay open forever. The fact it isn't shut now is something of a mini miracle in today's game. The Spurs have a miraculous mix of people, though, and the understanding that individuals matter even in a collective pursuit of a common goal.

The franchise values its employees, and that feeling is reciprocated. That's why the best ones that come to the Alamo City never leave, like future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. The 38-year-old, fresh off his fifth championship run, just committed to his 18th season with the Spurs, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Spurs confirmed Duncan's decision in an official release Monday afternoon.

When Duncan suits up, good things happen for San Antonio.

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) forward Tim Duncan (21) and Manu Ginobili (20) celebrate with the Larry O'Brien trophy after defeating the Miami Heat in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Spurs

Spurs.com detailed the level of success the superstar and his franchise have enjoyed during their time together:

Over the 17-year span San Antonio has posted a 950-396 regular season record, giving the team a winning percentage of .706, which is the best winning percentage in all of professional sports over that span and the best winning percentage over any 17-year span in NBA history. Over the span, the team has accumulated four 60-win seasons and currently owns an NBA-record 15 consecutive campaigns of 50-plus victories.

After nearly two decades, Duncan is still the most important piece of San Antonio's puzzle.

Statistically speaking, the 14-time All-Star plays a much smaller role than he used to.

With his minutes being as carefully monitored as ever by coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan's challenge is making the best of what he's given. His scoring (15.1) and rebounding (9.7) averages bear the brunt of his limited exposure. Still, he's maximized his chances and flashed an efficiency not unlike what he had shown in his peak performance days:

The Spurs need those numbers, but they need Duncan the player and what he represents even more.

He's a historically gifted player with an unwavering commitment to the Spurs' way of business. 

SAN ANTONIO, TX JUNE 04: Tim Duncan #21 and head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talk during practice as part of the 2014 NBA Finals on June 04, 2014 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

He doesn't question Popovich's methods or the numbers they've taken away from his stat line. He won't take the franchise for all its worth but instead work for a deal that leaves the organization with significant spending power:

Duncan has created a culture where the team truly comes first. Considering his stature as a two-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP, it's no surprise to see his teammates willingly following his lead.

The Spurs have a deadly mix of top-shelf talent and tight-knit chemistry. As long as that balance remains, so will San Antonio's standing as an elite NBA force.

"With the front office putting the teams together that we've had and us playing smaller roles and our roles changing over the years, and us happy to accept the roles that we're in, I feel we can do it until we feel we don't want to do it anymore," Duncan told reporters following the Spurs' Game 5 win over the Miami Heat.

San Antonio's blend of veterans and young talent has helped all parties involved. The old Spurs stars are not pushed beyond the limits of their aging frames. San Antonio's young guns have the opportunity to shine, but they aren't asked to dominate every time out.

There is little pressure to perform outside of the fuel they find from disproving the doubters who have yet to learn their lesson.

"We’ve been on our last run for the last five or six years from how everyone [in the media] wants to put it," Duncan said at the 2014 NBA Finals, via The Ledger. "We show up every year, and we try to put together the best teams and the best runs possible because what people say doesn't matter to us."

The Spurs have enough talent to compete in the fully loaded Western Conference, but it's their culture that separates them from the pack.

It's Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili leaving enough on the table so the front office has the finances needed to keep free agents Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner around if it wants. It's Parker sincerely celebrating Duncan's return:

It's Duncan enjoying his fifth NBA title by elevating a teammate who had just captured his first ring.

"He plays with a confidence that is just amazing," Duncan said of 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "I'm honored to be on this team right now, because he's going to be great for years to come."

The window isn't nearly as wide for the Spurs.

"Next year may actually be the last year of these Spurs as we know them," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote. "Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli all will be in the last years of their deals."

For a franchise that has treated the roller-coaster aspect of the NBA as its own lazy river, the Spurs could finally be on their way to facing some uncertainty.

That's (at least) another year off in the distance, though.

The Spurs will return most (and could bring back all) of the pieces responsible for rattling off a league-best 62 wins and posting top-six efficiency marks at both ends of the floor. They'll also get to see how quickly Leonard's star will rise heading into his fourth NBA season.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Bill Russell presents the Bill Russell MVP Trophy to Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs after the San Antonio Spurs victory in Game Five and winning the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at AT&T Center on June 15, 20
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The West could be even deeper in 2014-15—the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are all shopping for stars—but the Spurs are still the standard-setters.

No one will build a collection of talent deeper than San Antonio's. No one will cook up the same championship level of chemistry that the Spurs' decision-makers have found.

The Spurs know how to make the most of their chances. They never let a good one go to waste.

No matter what transpires outside of the Alamo City this summer, no one will disrupt the path back to the championship round that once again sits in front of the Spurs.


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