San Antonio Spurs: When Rasho Nesterovic replaced David Robinson

SAN ANTONIO - MAY 13: Rasho Nesterovic
SAN ANTONIO - MAY 13: Rasho Nesterovic /

The San Antonio Spurs signed Rasho Nesterovic to replace the retired David Robinson in 2003.

In 2003, after two NBA championships and 14 successful years with the San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson retired. He did so after the franchise’s second title, going out on top, but leaving a hole at center.

To replace Robinson, the Spurs went after Alonzo Mourning, who looked to return from a kidney disease that had the chance to end his NBA career. He missed the 2002-03 season, but was one of the league’s best centers from 1992-02.

Mourning went to the New Jersey Nets, as well as Jason Kidd, who Gregg Popovich pursued to play point guard. So, it left the team to attempt to find other options. That left them with a player, named Rasho Nesterovic.

On July 16, 2003, ESPN reported the Spurs gave Nesterovic a whopping six years and $42 million, the latter of which was high for the time. Teams can’t give out six-year deals, either, in 2017, so it’s a sign of how the NBA used to be.

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Nesterovic left the Minnesota Timberwolves after five seasons and at age 26. He developed into the team’s starting center, playing next to Kevin Garnett on the front line. The Slovenian big man put up a career high 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in his final year in Minnesota.

Bill Duffy, who was Nesterovic’s agent, gave this quote to ESPN in the previously linked piece:

“Rasho has a great fondess for Gregg Popovich,” Duffy said. “This is a great opportunity to join a championship-caliber organization.”

Popovich even flew overseas to meet with Nesterovic. That’s how badly he wanted him in San Antonio. He was set to pair with Tim Duncan, who signed his own mega-deal (seven years, $122 million).

For the 2003-04 season, Nesterovic stepped in and started all 82 games at center. He provided what turned out to be his team-high numbers, averaging 8.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks. Decent numbers for someone who played in 28 minutes per game, but it wasn’t an upgrade from Robinson’s final year and not up to par with someone that received a hefty contract, which consumed a chunk of the Spurs’ salary cap.

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Over the next two seasons, Nesterovic saw his playing time diminish. It dropped to 18.9 minutes per game in 2005-06 and he topped out at 5.9 points in 2004-05. His minutes went to Nazr Mohammed, who split time almost down the middle in his final year.

After 2006 and one championship, Nesterovic and his expensive contract were sent to the Toronto Raptors. In exchange Eric Williams, a 2009 second round pick, and a forward named Matt Bonner, who became an integral role player for 10 seasons and on two title-winning teams.

Nesterovic played the remaining three years of his deal, two with Toronto and the last one with the Indiana Pacers. He returned to the Great North in 2009-10, but for 42 games and under 10 minutes per, before dropping out of the NBA for good.

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No one could replace Robinson. Arguably, the Spurs didn’t find the proper player to go next to Duncan until 2015, when LaMarcus Aldridge signed. These two played just one year together, before the Big Fundamental retired in 2016.