Three years away from the game may have been too long for Crucian-born 15-time NBA all-star Tim Duncan, who will return to the NBA as an assistant coach for the the San Antonio Spurs, the team announced Monday.
His decorated 19 year career – all as a member of the Spurs – includes five league championships, three Finals MVP awards and two league MVP awards.
In the team’s statement about the hire, head coach Gregg Popovich said, “It is only fitting that, after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor.”
The national media reacted positively to the move.
Marc Stein of the New York Times confirmed that Duncan will have an on-the-bench role for the Spurs next season and is not taking a “a mere player development role.” He considers Duncan’s hire as surprising as Kevin Durant’s move to the Nets and Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in what has been an unusually busy NBA offseason.
Spurs analyst Sean Elliot said in a tweet that it is the best “free agent” signing of the summer.
Nick Wright, co-host of “First Things First” on Fox Sports 1, noted, “You almost never see players of his caliber becoming assistant coaches in this league.” The move was “awesome for the Spurs, awesome for Pop (Popovich) and awesome for Timmy (Duncan.)”
Analyst Skip Bayless, the co-host of “Undisputed,” which also airs on Fox Sports 1, tweeted, “Surprised (but glad) Tim Duncan will be a Pop assistant. If he’s half as good a coach as he was a player, Jakob Poeltl will soon be an all-star.”
Those are high expectations for Duncan, as last season Poeltl only recorded one double-double – double digits in scoring and rebounds or scoring and assists in a game. The Austrian-born Poeltl, a 23-year-old center, is one of three young players that played similar positions to Duncan who the Crucian will have the chance to make an impact on.
The two other young players that will receive instruction from the Duncan are Trey Lyles, also 23 and a power forward, and 19-year old and first round pick in this year’s draft Luka Samanic.
Duncan joins a Spurs team that was the seventh seed in the west with a 47-35 record last season.