Weekly lineup

 Monday, November 1
Duncan returns to Spurs -- for now?
Associated Press

 SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan, the big man with the mean jump hook, the killer bank shot and the deadly serious stare, is returning for his third season in the league and aiming for a second NBA championship.
Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan, the best player in the NBA, could leave San Antonio.
It could, however, be the end of his stint in San Antonio.

"I'm keeping my options open," said Duncan, whose three-year contract expires after the upcoming season. "At the end of the year, I'll figure out if I'm going to be here or somewhere else."

Plenty of teams surely will show interest in the 7-foot All-Star, who led the Spurs to their first title in June and was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals.

Duncan insists his future with the Spurs will rest partly on a Nov. 2 vote in Bexar County on construction of a new basketball arena. That vote could determine whether the Spurs remain in the city, and Duncan has indicated he wants to know where the team will be based before committing to another contract.

Left unsaid are his other considerations.

It's widely known, for instance, that Duncan and Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers are friends. The chance to play for Rivers could be a big draw for Duncan come next summer.

Rivers minimizes that scenario.

"Guys are going to do what they want to do. There's nothing I can do to talk a guy into coming or leaving," Rivers said. "I think that's way overblown, to be honest. They have a championship team and I don't see that changing anytime soon."

A former Spurs player, Rivers was a television commentator before accepting the Orlando coaching job in June. Rivers informally guided Duncan and his teammates in workouts during the NBA lockout last year when coaches weren't permitted to have contact with players.

"I know him. He's a good guy. I worked out with him a bit during the lockout time. That's about it," Duncan said.

The NBA's tampering rule prohibits coaches and players from trying to entice players under contract to other teams. The league recently admonished former Spurs player Will Perdue, now with Chicago, for suggesting Duncan might join the Bulls after his Spurs contract is up.

"Tim Duncan is not married to San Antonio by any means," Perdue told reporters. "He's made that very clear."

Rivers said he doesn't know whether the arena vote and the possible relocation of the Spurs will be big factors in Duncan's decision.

"Honestly, I haven't talked to Tim about it, obviously. I can't, even if I wanted to," he said.

Should Duncan want to sign a contract extension with the Spurs before the season, the deadline is Oct. 31. Under the league's collective bargaining agreement, Duncan could sign a six-year contract for $70.9 million or a seven-year deal worth $86 million.

Other teams could pay him a comparable amount under the collective bargaining rules.

"It's not a matter of money," Duncan said. "I figure I'll make pretty good money anywhere."

David Robinson believes his partner will stay with the Spurs if the team remains successful.

"I'm not really that worried about it, because if you keep winning, there's nobody in the world that would leave a situation like that," Robinson said.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he doesn't blame Duncan for waiting to say where he'll play.

"Where each of us lives our life is pretty important to all of us," Popovich said. "So, if I'm in his shoes I wait until the end of the year when I'm a free agent and I make my decision then based on a lot of different factors."

Duncan, the No. 1 draft pick in 1997 out of Wake Forest, lived up to expectations and then some his first two seasons.

In 1998, he was Rookie of the Year. Last season he finished third behind Karl Malone and Alonzo Mourning in Most Valuable Player voting, although many ballots had been turned in before Duncan led the Spurs in their victorious surge down the stretch.

Duncan was the only player last season ranking in the top 10 in scoring average (21.7 points), rebounding (11.4), blocked shots (2.52) and field-goal percentage (49.5).

He gets widespread admiration for his ball handling, shot blocking, shooting and overall defensive skills.

Popovich praised Duncan's improved versatility, his ability to catch and shoot the ball quickly, and his "moves to dominate people."

"He's basically become fully confident out on the floor, likes it out there," Popovich said. "He understands the effect he has on the game at both ends. He's enjoying it, and wants to do that even more. So it's that mental approach that's really helped him step up a notch."

With a jam-packed summer, first with the NBA Finals, then playing for the U.S. team in the Olympic qualifying tournament, Duncan had a short off-season and little time to fine tune his game.

Duncan said he hopes his two years of experience and success in the league help him to keep elevating his play.

And when might this 23-year-old enjoy the peak of his NBA career?

"Hopefully," he said, smiling, "many years down the way."