Tim Duncan just won his fifth NBA title. He's got two NBA MVPs, 14 All-Star game appearances and $225 million. After 17 years in the league, he's the consensus pick for best forward ever and he's still playing the position. This past season, at 38, he averaged a near double-double while dominating on defense. That fact is going to make what I'm about to say sound really stupid: Tim Duncan should retire.
It's not because he should worry about going out on top. Given his success, he doesn't really have to worry about narrative. The Tim Duncan story, after all, isn't about redemption - it's about dominance. Consider it from his perspective: He could leave the game now, refusing to sully his legacy with a couple years of mediocrity, or he could make another $20 million. That money looks pretty good, especially considering Duncan doesn't appear to be turning into a pumpkin. This isn't the same choice David Robinson made after the Spurs won the Finals in 2003. The Admiral was in decline. He had just averaged 8.5 points and 7.9 rebounds and played in only 64 games. Duncan is still one of the best big men in the game.
So why hang it up? Because this is the perfect time to pass the torch. For all the talk of 22-year-old swing man Kawhi Leonard coming out of nowhere to win the Finals MVP, there were signs of this for those looking in the right place. Leonard led the Spurs in win shares and VORP this season. For those who like their stats old fashioned, he shot 52% from the field, tied for best on the team and 18th in the league.
If Duncan retires now, this can become Kawhi's team, inasmuch as any team coached by Gregg Popovich can be any one player's. As Pop said last night, Leonard's role in the team's offense is only going to increase. And as Duncan indicated, the Spurs' future is in the young man's frying pan-sized hands. Tim should retire now, not because he owes an untarnished legacy to fans and not because he's losing his skills, but because succession matters and he has the chance to hand the team over to Leonard, as Robinson once handed it over to him.
Two years ago, Duncan gave up half his salary, roughly $10 million a year, to win titles with Tony and Manu. He's all about the team and the best way to help the Spurs move forward is to move forward himself. It's time for "The Big Fundamental" to go dominate a different field. A buddy cop show with Popovich, a fashion line for five-year-olds, a job replacing incandescents with LED bulbs - Duncan will succeed at whatever he does next. The man is a winner. He just needs a new game.
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