Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are essentially one and the same. It’s hard for a younger generation of NBA followers to believe that team could exist without player and vice versa, but they’ll receive a crash course in that reality soon enough. Though the 39-year-old seems like he could play forever, after all, Duncan’s storied career is clearly on its last legs.
And as he and the Spurs embark on negotiations for his final playing contract, it seems the parties might make one last compromise before one of basketball’s most fruitful partnerships comes to an end. According to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, Duncan and San Antonio might agree to a “wink-wink” two-year deal that is signed with the understanding he’ll retire following the 2015-2016 season.
There are several NBA player personnel executives who believe the Spurs will offer Duncan a two-year contract that begins between $6 million and $7 million, with a partial guarantee and a player option in the second season.
If Duncan doesn’t exercise the option, he gets, say, 50 percent of that season’s salary. In effect, his salary for next season would remain over $10 million, the partially guaranteed portion of the second season’s salary remaining on the Spurs team salary after the cap explodes with the NBA’s new TV money kicking in for 2016-17.
“You can call it a ‘wink-wink’ deal if you want to,” said an Eastern Conference team executive. “It’s what they did with (Antonio) McDyess, so why not for Duncan?”
It’s no secret that the Spurs covet star free agents like Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. While retaining Kawhi Leonard in restricted free agency is the franchise’s chief offseason goal, possessing his Bird Rights – and thus the ability to exceed the cap to re-sign him – makes doing so relatively easy. To gain enough space under the cap to lure a new max-level player, though, San Antonio needs to get creative.
Hence the proposed two-year contracts for Duncan and fellow veteran Manu Ginobili. Any such hush-hush arrangement would be against league rules and subject to punishment, but also extremely difficult to prove. As Monroe notes, R.C. Buford has even conducted one in the past with Antonio McDyess.
This is one of the most important summers in franchise history for the Spurs. While Gregg Popovich and company would obviously prefer if Duncan and Ginobili stuck around for another run at a title, doing so could come at a financial price that prohibits them from signing a star free agent – if the future Hall-of-Famers drag their negotiations far past the opening of free agency and refuse to play for hometown discounts. But Duncan and Ginobili have always put the team before themselves, and it appears both will continue doing so before their playing careers are finally finished.
San Antonio is one of the offseason’s biggest dominoes, and its ability to secure Duncan and Ginobili early would tip off July’s proceedings with aplomb. Rest up before then, fans. The NBA’s silly season is fast approaching, and the Spurs could have a leg up on the competition.