Tim Duncan is playing in his 18th NBA season, and is considered by many to be, along with Kobe Bryant, one of the two greatest players of his generation.
But unlike Bryant, Duncan has been spared by injuries, and simply keeps plugging along.
He’s averaging a double-double (14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) for the first time since 2010, and because of the way he’s able to continue to play the game at such a high level of consistency, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich believes there’s a strong chance that Duncan may return for an additional season.
From Sam Amick of USA Today:
“No matter how (the season) ends, I think Timmy is going to look at (retirement) again,” Popovich told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “And if you ask me, my guess is that he’ll go for another one because he has been so consistent this season.
“It’s just consistent stuff: another double-double, over and over and over again. Because of that, I think in his mind that if it continues through the rest of the year, I think he’ll say, ‘I’m going to go another year and see what happens.’ Because what he has told me is that the minute he feels like he’s a hindrance to his team or he’s not on the positive end or helping him, he’s going to walk right off the court. It might be during the third quarter of a game.
“He’s not going to hang on to finish a contract or make the money or have the notoriety that you know he doesn’t give a (expletive) about. So the way he’s playing now, he’s going to look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing all right.’ “
Duncan is in the final year of his current contract (one that will pay him a little over $10 million), and Manu Ginobili and Danny Green are similarly able to become unrestricted free agents once this season is finished.
San Antonio will need to commit a large sum of money to Kawhi Leonard this summer, so depending what happens with Ginobili and Green, if Duncan does decide to return, it may be for far fewer dollars.
But as Popovich mentioned, the decision wouldn’t be based on that at this stage of Duncan’s Hall of Fame career. If he believes he can still play at a high level, and if the Spurs remain in the championship chase (as they remarkably have for the past 17 seasons), we may see Duncan continue to suit up as long as he believes it makes sense to do so.