Carmelo Anthony and Knicks should look to Tim Duncan, Spurs and follow their lead.
SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan is the ultimate franchise player, a star who over the years has sacrificed salary, shots and minutes for the good of the San Antonio Spurs.
Just as David Robinson eventually deferred to Duncan, the player they affectionately call Old Man Riverwalk has deferred to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. It was a crucial progression and one that Carmelo Anthony knows will one day take place in New York.
The question is whether Anthony will accept a backseat to Kristaps Porzingis, assuming the rookie continues on his current trajectory.
“Yeah, if I have those players on my team, somebody to pass the torch, of course I’m willing to do that,” Anthony said on Friday. “I think he realizes that (Duncan) wasn’t going to be able to do it by himself. Some days he has it, some days he doesn’t, but I don’t think he worries about that because he’s got other guys on his team who can carry that load.”
Anthony deferred on the final play of Friday night’s near-upset of the Spurs, passing to Jose Calderon, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer missed. Anthony could have forced the issue, but on a night he shot just 5 of 15 in the 100-99 defeat, he gave up the ball to the open man, the kind of play San Antonio routinely makes.
After two straight years of missing the playoffs, Anthony understands the benefits of being surrounded by talented teammates and realizes how important Porzingis is to the Knicks’ future.
“(The Spurs) passed the torch a couple times,” Anthony added. “You have to want to do that. You have to be willing to do that. If you talk about sacrifice that’s the ultimate sacrifice.”
Duncan and the Spurs, of course, are everything the Knicks have not been over the past 15 years: perennial contenders, a model of stability and in some cases even a tad lucky.
The Spurs have become the gold standard in the NBA and something the Knicks should be trying to replicate.
“That’s what we want to build as a team and an organization as well,” Porzingis said on Friday. “We want to have that culture that the Spurs have and hopefully this can be the beginning of something. That’s a great example for us how great an organization can be and to build a team.”
San Antonio has been on an unprecedented 20-year run, starting with the club’s decision to tank the 1996-97 season and defy the odds to win the top overall pick of the NBA Draft. That’s where luck comes in. The Spurs drafted Duncan and the rest is history… which includes five titles.
The Knicks spent the last four months of the 2014-15 season tanking and were both smart and lucky to get Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. The challenge now for Knicks president Phil Jackson and his inevitable successor is to find the right pieces to put around a 20-year-old forward they believe can be a franchise player.
The Spurs have changed personnel over the years but their core values never change. Plus, they have what every successful organization in every sport needs: strong ownership, a savvy front office, a great coach and a franchise player.
Duncan has been the centerpiece, joining a team that already had a future Hall of Fame center in David Robinson. The front office then drafted Manu Ginobili in the second round and selected Tony Parker with the last pick of the first round.
That trio — Duncan-Parker-Ginobili —has won more games than any trio in NBA history. And along the way, the Spurs have managed to keep adding players that fit Gregg Popovich’s system while Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have accepted lesser roles. Today, the Spurs’ two best players are Leonard and Aldridge and yet Popovich is still a master at using his entire roster to keep winning.
“Those three guys were committed from day one,” Anthony said. “They never looked elsewhere for free agency, anything like that. They wanted to be here. And that’s why they’re in the situation that they’re in now.”
Duncan is 39 years old and still going strong. He has given no indication whether this season will be his last.
But if Duncan does plan to retire don’t expect a Kobe Bryant type of announcement or farewell tour. That’s not Duncan’s style. More than likely, Duncan will issue a one sentence statement during the middle of July.
“We’ve been talking about that for the past four years, that he was every year going to retire,” Anthony says. “Until he says he’s out, that’s when he’s out.”