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Manu Ginobili Comments on Decision to Return to Spurs in Free Agency, Tim Duncan

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 22, 2016

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, of Argentina, takes foul shot against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Denver. San Antonio defeated Denver 99-91. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs lost longtime franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan to retirement in the offseason, but Manu Ginobili decided to return to the team for his 15th season.

Ginobili spoke Thursday about how he wanted to explore the potential of playing elsewhere before ultimately concluding he would stay in San Antonio, per The Vertical's Michael Lee:

I never wanted to leave San Antonio. But I had to listen to all the options that are there. …

The fact that Philadelphia had a great coach and a person I appreciate so much as Brett Brown, made it more appealing in the case the Spurs didn’t happen. But the Spurs happened and they always had the priority. …

I still enjoy the game. Last year, I had a blast. We had a great team. I did well. I was healthy, except that incident in February [when Ginobili was forced to miss 11 games after a knee to the groin required testicle surgery]. Once I felt that I enjoy the game still and I can still do it, it wasn't a hard decision.

Considering how long he's been with the Spurs and the fact that he played a role on four championship-winning squads, it would've been bizarre to see Ginobili wearing a different jersey in 2016-17.

Duncan walked away from the game earlier in July after 19 seasons in San Antonio. Ginobili also took some time to speak about The Big Fundamental on Thursday, per Lee:

This season is going to be a different season, being out there with the Spurs without him. He was an incredible teammate. A person of whom I learned a lot. That I enjoyed playing with him. Many times, when an athlete is so big, so talented, gets MVPs and all that, you sort get a little more egocentric or, I don't know, and with him, it was not the case at all. He always cared mainly about the team, and then personal accolades, he never cared about All-Star games, those awards, he just cared about getting us to June. It was an enormous pleasure to have had the opportunity to play with him 14 seasons.

Last summer's big free-agent acquisition, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, is positioned to take over for Duncan, who is believed by many to be the greatest of all time at that spot.

Like Duncan, Ginobili has been part of a humble, hard-working Spurs culture that has done little else but win en route to 19 consecutive postseason trips.

Even with Duncan playing out his last season in the league and Ginobili nearing the end of his career, San Antonio posted a 67-15 record in 2015-16, so the positive influence must be rubbing off.

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"Losing Tim made it absolutely imperative that we keep him," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said about Ginobili, per Lee. "To lose them both at the same time, it would've been like death by a thousand cuts. It would've been awful."

Longtime point guard Tony Parker, who has played his entire career alongside Duncan, will return to the squad for his 16th season. The team also picked up All-Star Pau Gasol on the open market this year. Gasol is a two-time NBA champion who should fit into San Antonio's winning dynamic.

Although he turns 39 years old next Thursday, Ginobili proved last season he can still perform at a high level while playing 19.6 minutes per night, and according to Basketball-Reference.com, he averaged 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes.

Ginobili shot 45.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range last season too, showing he can still be an efficient scorer and a capable cog in San Antonio's new-look offense.

With Kawhi Leonard continuing to be more assertive and Aldridge coming into his own, the Spurs' future is bright, and they still have two savvy veterans to look to for wisdom as they gear up for another playoff run.

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