Tim Duncan retired a Spurs legend. He had his jersey retired and is beloved by fans everywhere. He's one of the now-rare cases of a great player that spent his entire career with one team. However, while a player as great as Duncan was always destined for greatness, there was a slight chance we could have seen him play elsewhere.
Duncan was a free agent in the summer of 2000 and his final decision came down to two teams. He could either stay with the Spurs, where he won a championship, or go to Orlando and start something new there. He would've had Grant Hill at his side, who the Magic just recently signed. Orlando signed Tracy McGrady as well later in that same free agency period.
Of course, everybody knows how the story ends. It's a close decision, but Duncan decides San Antonio is the place for him and stays. Hill can't get through injuries in Orlando and McGrady forces his way out of Orlando after a horrendous 19-win season in 2004. One has to wonder what it would have been like had he stayed.
According to Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan's longtime teammate with the Spurs and current play-by-play man for the Clippers, the chances of seeing that happen were far closer than anybody realized. During Wednesday's Suns-Clippers broadcast, Bowen shared a story about Duncan's free agency meeting with then-Orlando coach Doc Rivers. Bowen reveals what wound up being a deal-breaker for Duncan in the clip below:
"One thing Gregg Popovich didn't do was screw it up with Tim Duncan. I remember when Tim was a free agent, he was thinking about going to Orlando when Doc was there. ... When Tim went out to meet with Orlando, he asked, 'can family come on the flights to some games?' From what I understand, Doc said no, and that's when he lost Tim Duncan"
The Magic had a real shot at Duncan. It was incredibly close, and if Orlando really lost out because Rivers didn't want family on the team plane, then that one is going to sting for Orlando fans for a long time. It's not often that a team loses out on one of the greatest players in NBA history because a is not willing to bend the rules.
After re-upping with San Antonio, the Spurs went on to become of the NBA's model franchises. Consistency, culture and always one step ahead of opposing teams. Having a star like Duncan there was a big part of why they were able to do that. Meanwhile, the Magic fell. They fell hard. They did reach the NBA Finals in 2009, but they never quite had the success Duncan had in San Antonio.
What if Duncan had gone to Orlando, though? It's one of those fun what-ifs that could shake the NBA as a whole. Obviously, the West opens up way more for teams like the Timberwolves and Kevin Garnett. There was the Lakers with Kobe and Shaq. The seven-seconds-or-less Suns teams with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire -- all teams that at one point or another ran into a Duncan-sized speed bump.
Then there's, of course, the Magic. To make it easy, let's just assume that if Duncan signs with the Magic, they still manage to land McGrady. They now have Grant Hill, McGrady and Duncan all on one team together. It would've been hard to see how anybody in the Eastern Conference ever got in the way of that trio had they stayed healthy. You have to remember that at the time, the conference was filled with single-star teams like Allen Iverson and the 76ers or the Jason Kidd and the Nets. No one had that kind of top-heavy talent on their roster.
However, while McGrady turned into one of the league's most dominant scorers in Orlando, Hill constantly faced injuries. Those injuries weren't something he just picked up in Orlando. They were related to an ankle injury he picked up in Detroit. That ankle would eventually be the bane of his career. It ruined him.
Maybe a McGrady-Duncan duo would have been enough to run through the East, but with all that money tied to three players, there wouldn't have been be much room for role players. As everyone saw, the front office in Orlando consistently failed to put talent around McGrady. There isn't much to go on and believe that same front office would fare better with even less money to work.
So while Duncan on the Magic is one of the great what-if moments in league history, it could have been doomed from the start because of a poor front office and Hill's injury history. However, if you ask Magic fans, they'll gladly take the possibility of seeing Duncan in a Magic jersey over what wound up happening. Even if the results were the same, they still would have had a better shot at doing something great compared to what they wound up with.