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NBA Playoffs: Pounding the Rock on How Long Duncan Can Keep Playing

The conversation between SpursFanTN of Pounding the Rock and Grizzly Bear Blues continues.

Stephen Dunn

You are jumping in in the middle of a conversation between myself and SpursFanTN of Pounding the Rock. The first half of the conversation is here, and it’s awesome. Previous installments of the conversation here, here, and here.

Kevin Lipe:

One of those rituals is false. You guess which one.

I have a question for you now. One that you may not want to talk about or answer, but I’m interested to hear a Spurs fan’s take on it. How many years is Tim Duncan going to play? Is there something about Pop’s system that’s enabled him to age more gracefully than most? If so, what is it?


The million dollar, no, I guess, multimillion dollar question. How long is Timmy going to play? Who knows? Personally, I’m thinking 1–2 years. You’ve had guys that played into their 40s before, Kurt Thomas comes to mind - but not at this level. Steve Nash or Kareem are the most productive old guys that I can think of, although Jason Kidd comes close - until this year. I heard it said one time that some great basketball center, I don’t remember who off the top of my head, could have played into his 40s, and still put up 20 and 10. And that may be true. But there is a lot more required of big men now that the rules for defenders have changed so that checking on the perimeter is limited. Back in the day a defender that was good with his hands and arms could keep most people out of the lane. These days it is not so easy, so you need more mobile big men to rotate over and protect the rim, but not leave too soon leaving their man too wide open. So, what is amazing about Duncan is that he is still mobile enough at 37 to anchor a very strong, even elite, defensive squad. If he loses another half a step? Well, that could drastically change things. I don’t see Tim staying around to play 5 minutes a game on a team whose ceiling might optimistically be the first round of the playoffs.

Obviously, Pop protects Tim - and all of his players. Spurs are on the cutting edge of analytics, sports studies, and all of that. They are well aware of fatigue factors. When you look at the Spurs minutes, they are spread out a lot more than a lot of other teams. Plus, even if a guy plays 40 minutes, he doesn’t play 20 and 20. Pop gives guys breaks to have a breather, get the wind back and let the muscles recover, even if it is only a couple of minutes - in addition to timeouts, free throws, and ordinary game breaks. This prevents injuries, and excessive fatigue. Pop doesn’t rush anyone back from injury.

In a 3 games in 4 nights or 4 games in 5 nights, or even a back to back, Pop will severely limit minutes in a couple of games and/or not even let Duncan dress for a game. And I’ve gotta think that they’ve got world class trainers, therapists and doctors to keep all of these guys in the best health possible. I heard something the other day, where Pop made a statement like, "Well, it was obvious he wasn’t going to tell me how he was feeling, so I had to pull him." Pop knows his players. And his players are more important to him than winning a particular game.

Pop doesn’t do the Tom Thibodeau iron man thing. But he also doesn’t treat his players like children. This is a cooperative effort. And it looks like the magic number Pop is shooting for is around 29–30 minutes per night maximum. Check out this clip of Pop and Tony negotiating minutes. Cracks me up. I love the rapport. So yes, Timmy definitely benefits from Pop’s system, and the corporate knowledge of the Spurs.

But besides all of that, we’ve heard rumors and rumblings, hints and speculations about stuff that Duncan is doing on the side. There is his summer basketball thing. Apparently he invites a few NBA big men, like Roy Hibbert, to come and work out with him. There is whatever he did to help his knee which may seems to indicate that he is concentrating on conditioning rather than strength training. He started up a customer car shop. And he is a gamer. The last two may not have anything to do with his basketball longevity, but you never know. All I can say is, can you imagine how good Duncan would be right now if he didn’t have a bad knee?

As you get to go to a lot of games, you’ve seen a lot of basketball. What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve witnessed during a basketball game? Some rules: It has to have been on the court, during game play, and can’t involve cheerleaders. If you can find video so we can enjoy too, that would be cool.

Kevin Lipe:

As someone whose favorite team is in the Southwest Division and isn’t the Spurs, I’d prefer not to think about how good Duncan would be right now if he didn’t have a bad knee.

The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen happened on the court, during game play, but wasn’t a basketball event. It was this.

Game 6 of the Grizzlies/Clippers series was the most insane sporting event I’ve ever attended. As many people commented at the time, it felt more like a wrestling match than a basketball game.

When Z-Bo got ejected for jawing at the LA bench with the Grizzlies winning big down the stretch, the crowd exploded–not because they disapproved of the call, but because Zach Randolph was their hero, and they were going to tell him.

The relationship between Zach Randolph and the city of Memphis is magical. For all intents and purposes, Zach Randolph isn’t even a basketball player anymore down here: he’s a folk hero. In a way, he represents some of our darker histories, the overcoming of the past, and the toughness that struggle to overcome has imparted to Memphis and its residents. I think everyone in Memphis would give a kidney for him if he needed it. Beyond that, the fact that the Grizzlies had exorcised the demons of the 2012 Clippers series, and had done it mostly on Zach Randolph’s unstoppable back(side?), meant that Memphis was back in contention, and that we could stop doubting ourselves. It’s a cliché thing to say about sports, but that moment was a spontaneous outpouring of genuine love.

It was time to celebrate when Z-Bo got ejected from that game. As he skipped into the locker room, everyone in the building could do nothing but express love for him. It was beautiful, and it was deafening. And you can argue whether celebrating an ejection makes us "classy" basketball fans or not, but Memphis doesn’t care. Not in the least. Memphis cares–deeply–about Zach Randolph.

Your turn.

Big thanks to SpursFanTN, J.R. Wilco, and the rest of the crew at Pounding the Rock for coordinating this here shindig, and keep checking back throughout the series as the conversation continues.