Entering his 16th NBA season, Tim Duncan took on the familiar scene of lights, cameras, and microphones at the San Antonio Spurs media day. The rotation of questions has rarely changed - a personal recap and emotions of the previous season, the focus of the offseason, and the expectations of the upcoming 82-plus game grind. But with Duncan's age (now 36) and his lucrative contract coming to an end, interviews over the past few seasons have frequently included the matter of retirement - a topic that has continually irked the legendary power forward/center.
But with a new three-year deal signed and behind him, Duncan can at least address the retirement issue in a lighter manner for the time being. "No, I'm not going anywhere," Duncan said. "I've got nothing to do." And despite being the resident grey beard (there are 10 players on the Spurs training camp roster that were 10 years old or younger at the start of Duncan's rookie season), Tim is still not giving retirement any real consideration. "I was so healthy and I felt so good last year that, no, it really wasn't a thought," says Duncan. "I hope to have another year like that and have another three years like that. The way I felt and the way I was getting up and down - the way I was moving - I have no doubt that I'd play a couple more."
The much discussed topic of Duncan's "decline" continually fuels the retirement question. At the 2010 Spurs media day, Duncan expressed his personal frustrations over his growing physical limitations, but made it clear that he would not go quietly into the inevitable post-NBA life. "Until the wheels fall off" is the way Tim put it. Both Duncan and the Spurs talked about the retraction of floor minutes in the previous season and how new changes in his offseason diet and workout plan would hopefully spare his body and pay dividends in the long run. And although the recent post-season results haven't been what they sought after, the Spurs have been reaping the benefits from the micromanagement of Duncan's body.
During the compressed and hectic 2011-12 season, which featured a new über-tempo offense from the Spurs, Tim Duncan averaged 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per regular season game. When expanded from his career low of 28.2 minutes-per-game to the universally appointed starting lineup time of 36 minutes, Tim's on-court production mirrored that of his younger days (19.7, 11.5, and 1.9 respectively). Paired along with Tim's unparalleled work ethic, the minute-management strategy allowed Duncan to gel and produce within last season's quick offensive style of basketball.
The Spurs will continue to ease Tim's workload as his career winds down to help maximize his production, and if he feels good enough to finish out his contract, Duncan will have played 18 seasons of professional basketball. But despite the nearly two-decade figure, it still might not be enough for Mr. Fundamental. "I hope to even question it after that." says Duncan. "I doubt that part of it but I hope I feel that good at the end of this contract."
Here's to hope.