Chris Paul’s driving, one-handed, game-winning hook-shot at the end of Saturday night’s Game 7 masterpiece ended one of the best first-round series in NBA history, knocked out the defending champions, and advanced the Clippers one round closer to a much-anticipated series with Golden State.
It also put into question the status of one of the greatest ever dynasties in professional basketball—that of the five-time champion San Antonio Spurs.
While Gregg Popovich intimated that the team will probably be back, there are some big, individual decisions to be made still—Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili’s contracts have both run out—before anything is certain.
Popovich and Duncan have been working together for 18 years now and it’s believed Popovich will exit when the 39-year-old Duncan calls it quits.
Beyond that, how much four-time champions Ginobili (who will turn 38 this summer) and Tony Parker (33 in two weeks) still have left in the tank is unknown.
Based on their play this series, it might not be much as neither guard shot better than 37 percent from the floor while each posted his career-lowest postseason points-per-game averages.
Clearly it all hinges on the franchise star—Duncan—and his decision. Should he step aside it would be similar to how the Chicago Bulls dynasty ended, way back in 1998—Duncan’s rookie season.
Although Chicago’s Big Three at the time were similar in age to San Antonio’s current version with a 35-year-old Jordan, 32-year-old Scottie Pippen, and 37-year-old Dennis Rodman, their dynasty was fast and furious. The 1998 title, over Utah, was the team’s second straight over the Jazz, third in a row, and second three-peat in eight years, with only Jordan’s first (temporary) retirement (1993–1995) the missing gap between the two.
But Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson were done with the Bulls and their management. Jackson had agreed to one last one-year deal in Chicago for the ’98 season while Pippen had long been wanting to move on and get a new contract elsewhere.
Meanwhile Jordan, the franchise star who clearly wanted to give it another go-around, waited patiently to see if cooler heads would prevail.
It wasn’t to be though.
Jackson retired that summer as the Bulls hired Tim Floyd as his replacement, just around the time of the NBA’s lockout.
When it was finally time to play ball the following January (1999), the reigning-regular season and finals MVP Jordan announced his retirement (his second one, also temporary) on Jan. 13, rather than play for Floyd. Nine days later Pippen was traded to Houston. The next day the team released Rodman.
Just like that it was over.
Meanwhile Duncan, similar to Jordan all those years ago is still at the top of his game, burned the Clippers for 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds in the first round.
Should he call it quits though, don’t expect it to be temporary.