Following a premature playoff exit to the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan is at least leaving open the possibility of playing in the NBA for one more year.
The 40-year-old exercised his player option for the 2016-17 season on Tuesday, per The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. However, the report also stated Duncan is considering retirement as strongly as he ever has.
Mike Monroe of Rivard Report, citing a league source, confirmed the report.
According to Spotrac, Duncan will earn a little more than $5.6 million in base salary. Per Wojnarowski, San Antonio isn’t putting Duncan on any kind of timetable as he contemplates his NBA future.
Heading into the postseason, the Spurs weren’t the odds-on favorites to win an NBA title, but they were seemingly the only team that could challenge the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. The Thunder, however, had other plans and bounced San Antonio out of the second round in six games.
While Duncan didn’t provide any concrete signs he could potentially retire at the time, he’s the kind of player who would make the announcement as understated as possible—eschewing the lengthy send-offs Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter received.
Most NBA followers likely expected Duncan to call it quits—and he still could. The two-time MVP is coming off the worst statistical season of his career; in 25.2 minutes a night, he averaged 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He has also done everything he possibly can on the hardwood.
While Duncan’s skills are clearly diminishing, LaMarcus Aldridge’s arrival and Kawhi Leonard’s continued emergence unquestionably ate into his production. According to NBA.com, the Spurs were still a better team with Duncan on the court (13.7 net rating per 100 possessions) rather than off it (10.5 net rating).
And even with many core Spurs players in the twilight of their careers, the team can be a title contender once again in 2016-17. Leonard has improved in each of his five seasons in the NBA, and Aldridge could be even better with a full year under his belt in San Antonio. Some of the supporting cast, particularly Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, could assume bigger roles as well.
Many thought the Spurs’ title window was closed a few years ago, and the team then reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2013 and 2014. Were it not for Ray Allen’s game-tying three-pointer for the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, San Antonio might have won back-to-back titles too.
The franchise might finally be at the end of its competitive cycle—at least relying on Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But the Spurs have already started planning for that inevitability, with Leonard and Aldridge the new foundation for years to come.
As was the case in 2014-15, Duncan won’t need to play a starring role next season, and as long he can continue to be a positive presence for San Antonio, he should put the team in position to contend for a sixth NBA title.