However, it did bring some thought to my mind as to what the future holds for the last era of NBA big men. If you think about it, for the first time ever, there are real, legitimate questions surrounding unquestionably two of the three greatest players of the last 18 years – Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
The questions around Duncan have existed for the last couple seasons as people have continually written him and his Spurs off, believing that they are too long in the tooth to compete for a championship. But the Spurs yet again proved the doubters wrong this year, pushing the Heat to the limit. And if not for two missed free throws and a Ray Allen three in Game 6, they would be parading in downtown San Antonio on Monday.
While Duncan put together a virtuoso 30-point, 17-rebound performance in Game 6 just to remind us all of his individual greatness once again, he struggled to be consistent all postseason long, some would say due to fatigue. But when you’ve accomplished what Duncan has – multiple Finals MVPs, regular season MVPs, and four championships — you get the benefit of the doubt if you want to call it a career after 16 marvelous seasons.
Garnett, playing with a passion and intensity since 1995 that we may have never seen before, is at the center of trade rumors that would send him and coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers. But reports are that talks have stalled again, and the common thought is that if the trade doesn’t go through, Rivers would head back to broadcasting and Garnett would retire.
This got me thinking about what it will mean to the NBA when both of these Springfield-bound legends call it quits.
In a nutshell, it will mean the end of an era. Not an entire era, because Kobe Bryant could still play for another few years at 34, but it will mean the end of the true big men era in the NBA.
In a league now that sees the majority of big men play on God-given athletic ability, Garnett and Duncan are the opposite. While great athletes, they are also tremendous passers, excellent defenders and both have displayed true old-school back-to-the basket games in their careers, leaving defenders at their mercy on the low block.
Garnett has his patented baseline fade away – where he fakes one way and goes the other – a shot impossible to block given his length and high release point. Duncan has his shots off the glass, and methodical, lull-you-to-sleep like post moves that epitomize basketball 101, the reasons Shaquille O’Neal coined him “The Big Fundamental”.
And in an era where stars gripe about contracts, coaches, and jump ship for the more desirable cities to play, Duncan and KG were franchise lynchpins.
Garnett was the heart and soul of his Minnesota Timberwolves teams, the face of a franchise and small market for over 10 seasons before being traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007 where he also became their identity.
And for the last 16 years, all Spurs fans have known that their franchise centerpiece is Duncan.
Both are true competitors, hard workers dedicated to their craft, wanting to test themselves against the best throughout their careers. They are consistent year in and year out, mainstays on All-NBA teams and All-Star teams, and all-time greats. They are the last two true big men standing, and it will be a sad day when they retire.