In 2000, the San Antonio Spurs nearly lost Tim Duncan to the Orlando Magic. However, former head coach Doc Rivers may have influenced Duncan’s decision to stay in the Alamo City.
Tim Duncan became a San Antonio Spurs legend in the early 2000’s, with dominant performances and multiple NBA championships. Upon retirement in 2016, he finished with five, all of which had head coach Gregg Popovich by his side.
In 2000, however, Duncan nearly left the Spurs for the Orlando Magic. It was just years into his NBA career and could have shaken up the landscape of both organizations. Especially since the Magic brought in Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, with an eye on an early version of the “Big 3.”
Via CBS Sports, according to former Spur and Los Angeles Clippers analyst Bruce Bowen, Duncan was close to leaving the Alamo City in 2000’s free-agency period. He spoke of Popovich not ruining his relationship with the Big Fundamental, along with Doc Rivers as the reason for avoiding Orlando:
“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”
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 21, 2017
It appeared that was the deal-breaker for Duncan leaving San Antonio. He signed a new contract, won a second NBA championship in 2003, and the rest was history.
As for Rivers, he remained Orlando’s head coach until the 2003-04 season, being fired just 11 games in. His success was found elsewhere, on the Boston Celtics, with a title win in 2008 and a second NBA Finals appearance in 2010. He remains the coach of the Clippers.
Oh, how different things could have been, though. A trio of young Duncan, prime Hill and developing McGrady had the potential to be special. Would they have won an NBA championship? What about the Spurs’ future?