| ||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.
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
"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
"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
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
"Hopefully," he said, smiling, "many years down the way."
|Tim Duncan, the best player in the NBA, could leave San Antonio.|| |