Tim Duncan Had to Take a 50% Pay Cut?

Tim Duncan agreed to a 50% salary reduction so the San Antonio Spurs could sign LaMarcus Aldridge and re-sign Kawhi Leonard. Duncan was generous enough to forgo what he is worth so the Spurs, in particular, can continue their geographic reign atop the Western Conference.

Duncan, at 38, was making ten million dollars last year and his numbers indicated he was still the same Tim Duncan even though his minutes were nowhere near the 30 minute mark. Duncan still is a great rebounder and an offensive player who can make big clutch plays. He has the work ethic and competitive drive to keep on going. But, this year Duncan and Nick Young have the same paycheck and there is something wrong with a system that forces players to not receive appropriate compensation for their services so their team can add talent.

Duncan is playing the odds here and on the face of it there is logic. The more talent, the better the Spurs chances and Tim Duncan has the opportunity for ring number six. But it is Duncan and not the Spurs that has had to make the individual sacrifice. It is a money for rings swap except it’s not a guarantee that a ring will ever happen and if it doesn’t, like it didn’t for Dirk Nowitzki, then money was wasted on pursuit of a failed dream.

In a perfect world Duncan would be adequately compensated the way Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were. Aldridge is a curious bystander in all of this because he has only been in the second round of the playoffs one time. But he’s making $15 million more than 5-time champion Tim Duncan.

It’s a crazy proposition to talk about fairness with the insane salaries professional athletes make. It is a subculture very few can relate to except the reality of it is that salary suppression is bad for any league because it pits the players vs. the owners. The money is there, the new televison contract is proof that the NBA is a profitable industry because of the labor talent. Tim Duncan is part of that talent but he is an outlier. He voluntary gave back what he is due.

It works for Duncan in the court of opinion; he is hailed for unselfishness and generosity and he is the type of player you want for your franchise. Duncan put the franchise first. But is there ever reciprocity?

Duncan admitted he took less money several years ago because of the team, because of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. He is close to them and wanted to continue to keep the team together.

The prevaling wisdom is that Duncan will play until he is 45 but that is a pipe dream. He has a human body that he has nurtured to allow him to play this long but it’s going to come to an end. Realistically, Duncan is a product of his peaks and valleys. He went to back to back NBA Finals but before that he had a 6 year drought. Last season he lost in the first round. Yes, Duncan always gets to the playoffs but he’s had his share of first and second round exits.

The dirty word in sports is greed. It has become a label nearly as bad as loser, choker or stiff. To be greedy is to adhere to the romance of money, to get as much as you can get. The players who do are selfish and the ones who don’t are principled and perfect. But the market dictates value. The NBA is a business. The bottom line is always the bottom line. Owners are greedy too. They just aren’t criticized for it or forced to defend it.

Tim Duncan has been extraordinary to the San Antonio Spurs, he has rewarded them with professionalism, grace and titles. The team is his second family and like any member of any family he wants to keep them togther. So he does the hard part even if it is not his problem. He should not have the responsiblity on his shoulders because NBA rules are still punishing small market teams in their quest for talent accumulation.

The new CBA was to supposed to keep small market teams from being screwed and perhaps it did help the teams in the aggregate. It is the players who now have to make the tough call. Face the wrath of fans for demanding to be compensated for what your work is worth. Or saturate yourself in fan and media praise for turning money down. Be a hero.

There is a third option too, I suppose. The wanting to win more than you want just about anything else, including money that you are willing to lose. It is the Tim Duncan way.


photo via Wikipedia.commons