Last offseason Tim Duncan was a free agent. The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player earned $21 million the previous season and at 36 years old was ready to sign what would likely be his final contract.
But rather than demanding one last massive payday, Duncan cut his salary in half by signing a three-year, $30 million deal. One year after being the third highest paid player, Duncan knocked himself down to 61st, meaning he made less this year than Richard Hamilton or Hedo Turkoglu.
Duncan’s pay cut opened cap space for San Antonio to sign shooting guard Danny Green, forward Boris Diaw, and point guards Nando De Colo and Patty Mills. Green started every game he played this season, averaging a career high 10.5 points on 43 per cent three-point shooting. Diaw averaged 23 minutes a game for the 58-24 team now headed to the finals.
Duncan’s pay cut counters the situation the Oklahoma City Thunder faced last offseason. Entering the final year of his contract, reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden made clear he sought a maximum contract. Considering such a deal untenable, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston after he turned down a four-year, $55.5 million offer, $4.5 million below the maximum.
The Harden-Duncan comparison is unfair. Harden is 23 years old it’s hard to blame him for seeking his market value. Duncan has made over $200 million in his 15-year career and a better comparison is between him and Tom Brady. The New England Patriots quarterback signed a similar three-year, $27 million deal this offseason.
Duncan’s pay cut was just another low-key, class move by the big man.
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