It’s been said before. But really, name a better superstar…
There are 46 players, with 10 years or more experience in the NBA, who spent their whole career with one franchise. Bill Russell managed it and is arguably the most successful winner of all time thanks to 11 championship in his 13 seasons, but he had a difficult relationship with the city of Boston. Julius Irving stayed with the Philadelphia 76ers his entire NBA career but spent time with other teams in the ABA. Kevin McHale and Larry Bird stayed with the Celtics for their respective 13 years. Kobe Bryant spent 20 years with the LA Lakers but requested a trade at one point. Dirk Nowitzki finally got a single championship in 2011 but his team barely made deep runs to the playoffs after that. And Magic Johnson was with the LA Lakers every year he played but his career was tragically interrupted before attempting to coach and return to playing until becoming the worst President of Basketball Operations in franchise history.
No other player achieved the same level of excellence with a single team – with a largely unblemished record – than San Antonio’s run with Duncan that spanned 19 years. The team never lost more than 29 games in a single season. The only year in which his Spurs didn’t win 50 games was when they won the title in the lockout-shortened season of 1999 (and they still had a winning percentage of .740).
The year after he retired, he spent a good amount of time with the team and San Antonio still won 61 games, largely behind the strong play of Kawhi Leonard and a good season from LaMarcus Aldridge. In the playoffs, Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, and the most successful era in sports came to an end.
With Duncan set to return to the bench, it adds a cherry on top of a sneakily tasty cake heading into next season.
There has been so much player movement due to trades and free agency that nobody really knows how the West will be won. It’s most likely going to be one of the LA duos, maybe the Utah Jazz, the Houston Rockets or even the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Spurs will once again go under the radar – but that’s just how they like it.
Let’s not forget that San Antonio was without its starting point guard all last season. Head Coach Gregg Popovich was integrating a new star into the system. The second point guard was down to start the season. The third point guard was a rookie bouncing between the Austin Toros and the Spurs. And the team lost six rotation players compared to the previous year. It was rough. But the team still managed to win one game more than the 2017-2018 season.
Heading in to 2019-2020, Dejounte Murray will be back. DeMar DeRozan will be rested and more comfortable in the offense. LaMarcus Aldridge will be another year older, but he will still be able to hit that baseline turnaround jumper. And the likes of Lonnie Walker IV will take on a bigger role while Derrick White will be fully healthy for the whole season.
The Spurs are not going to win a championship, but with Duncan back on the bench alongside Popovich and Hammon, the coaching staff has three bona fide winners to help the younger players on the roster learn about excellence. And he can help the man who assisted him for 19 years return to contention one more time, before Popovich walks off into the sunset as the best coach in the history of basketball. Until, maybe, Duncan or Hammon take the reins.
The Spurs have hired Tim Duncan as an assistant coach, the team announced.
“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” said Gregg Popovich. pic.twitter.com/DEVhxZyVn6
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 22, 2019
Feature photo – Soobum Im / USA Today Sports / Chris Covatta / Patrick Smith / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington