When Tim Duncan announced his retirement earlier this summer, everyone across basketball knew that it would hit Gregg Popovich harder than anyone else. The two future Hall of Famers had a run together that isn’t rivaled by many, and they built an everlasting bond throughout their 19 seasons.
In an interview with Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News, Pop said he “has a hole in my gut” since Duncan left. Jokingly adding in how “most people aren’t married for 19 years.”
Popovich took the reigns of the franchise during the 1996-97 season and swooped up a 21-year-old Duncan with the first pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Popovich made a tall, lanky kid out of Wake Forest into a champion, leader, and one of the greatest to ever do it. Over the 18 subsequent years, the Spurs enjoyed grand success, winning 71 percent of their total games, a mark that was the best in the four major sports during their tenure.
Duncan and Pop helped bring five championships to San Antonio, and year in and year out, the Spurs were labeled as contenders on the shoulders of Duncan.
Popovich won’t change anything this season, “same culture, same philosophy,” and he doesn’t need to because Duncan’s retirement didn’t leave the team in shambles.
Losing Duncan is a major blow, but it’s not the end of the world. Parker, Ginobili, and Leonard have been around Duncan for a long time, and his impact on the organization will still be felt.
As much as this is the formal end of an era, the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili trio had passed the torch to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge last season, and the organization has made them the focal points.
While Duncan continued to be an astute defender in his later years, that was about all he was doing. His minutes were down, and Leonard seized the opportunity to be “the guy” on San Antonio. Popovich has so much belief in Kawhi, and Leonard has worked tirelessly to reach the superstar level and now it’s his turn to lead the franchise.