Tim Duncan dodges retirement talk as he prepares for sixth Finals appearance
SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan isn't ready to say whether or not his sixth NBA Finals appearance will be his last.
The Hall of Fame-bound big man met with the media on Wednesday, one day before the Spurs host the Heat in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals. With four champions already to his name, some have speculated that a title this season would provide a storybook ending to Duncan's 17-year NBA career.
If Duncan has one foot towards the door, he sure isn't letting on in front of the cameras and microphones.
"[Retirement] will happen when it happens," he said. "I'll feel it and I'll know it and I'll call it a day."
The 38-year-old Duncan, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, is still producing at a remarkable level. He averaged 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, three assists and 1.9 blocks per game this season, despite playing less than 30 minutes a night. His Player Efficiency Rating of 21.3 placed him among the top 15 big men in the league.
During the postseason, Duncan has averaged 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds, and he scored seven straight points in overtime to lead San Antonio to a closeout victory over Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
Still, TNT commentator Charles Barkley is one prominent voice who thinks a 2014 Finals victory would tie a bow on Duncan's career.
"I think [Duncan] would’ve retired if he had won a championship last year,” Barkley said this week, according to the Chicago Tribune. “And I think he wants to win a championship and go out. I think that’d be amazing.”
Now, two years and two Finals appearances later, Duncan made it clear that his focus is on adding to his legacy, not reflecting on future hypotheticals.
"I've not come to that point yet," he said of contemplating retirement. "I don't know when that's going to come about. I don't know when I'm going to retire, I don't know what the factors are going to be. I don't know any of that and I don't care about any of that stuff right now. ... There will be time to look back on [my career] once everything is over. For now, all I'm focusing on is trying to get another [title]."
A 14-time All-Star, two-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP, Duncan would achieve a rare feat with a 2014 Finals victory, as it would mark the third different decade in which he's won a title.
The Spurs won a league-best 62 game this season and almost all of their key players -- including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, among others -- are already under contract for the 2014-15 season.
Duncan will enter next season as one of the league's oldest players. It's possible that only Lakers guard Steve Nash, Heat guard Ray Allen and Wizards guard Andre Miller will be the only three players who are older than Duncan and on rosters to begin the 2014-15 season.
Even if Duncan isn't yet ready to publicly consider the end of his career, his longtime coach has a vision for how his franchise player will ride off into basketball's sunset. "He wants to hang around as long as he can while he's useful and while he's having an impact on the game," Popovich said on Wednesday. "He does everything he can to maintain a level of play. At some point that will stop. It will probably be the third quarter of some game on the road some year, and he'll feel like he's not as significant, and he'll walk into the locker room."