His playing days may be over, but Tim Duncan isn’t stepping away from basketball or the Spurs just yet.
Duncan’s appearance at a team workout last week came with confirmation that he’s officially joined Gregg Popovich’s staff in a role that will evolve as the season moves along. And that’s great news – for the organization, its fans and probably the Spurs legend himself.
It’s uncertain what his title is or will be – Popovich and Spurs GM R.C. Buford have admitted as much – so consider this a sort of ‘senior intern’ position for the time being. When pressed about specifics, Pop said Duncan will be the “coach of whatever he wants”, a comment that humorously underlines the measured approach being taken by the organization and its former star player.
One thing we do know is this: we won’t see him on the sidelines at games. That makes sense, as it allows him to finally spend as much time as possible with his family, avoid unnecessary media attention, and organically grow into his role. Sadly, it also deprives us fans the chance to see more of the Big Fundamental’s iconic dadcore fashion choices.
Still, don’t underestimate the impact he can have on the Spurs’ success next year. Culture and continuity have long been key components to their winning ways, and his presence will help keep those pillars upright as he imparts 19 years of experience on the new members of the team.
And there are a lot of new guys to get up to speed – especially in the frontcourt. Pau Gasol, David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon won’t be expected to spell Duncan’s peerless defensive presence, but the quicker they learn their responsibilities and the Spurs system in general, the better. Gasol and Lee come in with well-documented defensive flaws, but the athletically gifted Dedmon has the tools to be a special player on that end of the floor. Duncan, who was already acting as a coach on the court towards the end of his playing career, can be instrumental in facilitating that development.
The position also gives the former player a good jumping point for “life after playing”, as Buford put it. Duncan will observe practices (his body shop is, after all, just five minutes from the Spurs practice facility), dole out wisdom, and essentially adjust to a new chapter in his life and career. It’s a unique arrangement between an icon and organization that have helped define each other since 1997.
Fans also win with this news, of course – especially those of us who’ve been conditioned by the steadfast Spurs to resist change as if we were Number 21 blocking a shot at the rim. As jarring as it’ll be to watch the team take the floor without him there, there is some comfort in his enduring ties to Pop, Tony and Manu, in seeing him extend his legacy with the team, and in allowing our own fanatical fever dream to continue a little while longer.
It’ll probably give us a few more wins to cheer for next season, too.