Before the San Antonio Spurs took off with one of the greatest extended runs of success, the team was nearly dealt a significant blow. Star forward Tim Duncan entered free agency in 2000 with what could have been a departure after three seasons with the franchise. The Orlando Magic were widely believed to be his team of choice as he zeroed in that scenario. However, it was a process that saw the Spurs be able to retain the Hall of Fame big man. That is something that former Magic head coach Doc Rivers knows precisely where the team messed up in their hopes of landing him.
Tim Duncan’s 2000 free agency
It didn’t take long for Duncan to take off into stardom from the get-go as he proved to be the real deal in the NBA.
He quickly became one of the league’s promising talents while helping form an incredible frontcourt tandem next to fellow future Hall of Famer David Robinson. Through his first three years in the league, Duncan helped guide the franchise to their first NBA title and a pair of playoff appearances.
However, Duncan had an opportunity to test the free-agent market quiet early in his career after the 1999-2000 campaign. It became evident early on in the process that he had a strong desire to play for the Magic, but that situation never transpired after a fatal mistake that the team made.
Why Doc Rivers believes Tim Duncan went back to the Spurs
For many years, the perception has been that Duncan’s desire to play with the Magic dropped due to strict rules the team had on the team plane with no family being allowed. That is the storyline that many players such as Hall of Famers Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady chimed in to confirm.
However, Rivers may have finally cleared the air on what he believes led to the Magic losing Duncan to the Spurs. He voiced during a recent interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson that it was allowing him to talk to San Antonio again sealed the deal.
“I want to say it was John Calipari but I’m not sure because I called a lot of college coaches during this time because they recruit. That’s their job. I think it was Cal, I called him after Tim left and he said, ‘Did you get him?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it looks like we got him. He wanted to go back and talk to Pop and David (Robinson).’ He said, ‘Well, you lost him. We have one rule. You don’t let the kid leave campus without signing him.’”
The Rivers’ team airplane rule may have played a factor, but it was the chance for the Spurs to talk to Duncan again that allowed them to convince him to stay. He had strong ties to both head coach Greg Popovich and David Robinson that may very well become the deciding factor in the entire matter.
Tim Duncan made the right decision
It all turned out to be a franchise-changing moment for the Spurs to retain their best players that set the court for more than the next decade.
Duncan became a cornerstone piece of the franchise that made San Antonio the model for success in the NBA. That included five more trips to the Finals, where the franchise won four titles while winning two of his three Finals MVP awards along with a pair of regular-season MVP honors.
The Spurs with their trio of Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili continued to be a playoff constant. Things could have turned out quite interesting in Orlando alongside either Hill or McGrady, but it’s clear that he made the right choice for his illustrious career.