At last, San Antonio can sleep in peace.
Billboards pleading "Stay Tim, Stay" were rewarded Tuesday when Tim Duncan, the forward who sparked the Spurs to last year's National Basketball Association crown, announced he would not leave for an offer from Orlando.
The free agent who won All-NBA First Team honors in each of his three NBA seasons was going to be offered $67.5m to jump to the Magic, who have already lured Grant Hill from Detroit.
"I had a great visit down in Orlando," Duncan said. "They made the decision tougher than I thought it would be, but I just like what I have here."
Spurs management were anxiously awaiting Duncan's decision while the fans staged a love fest for the player who brought the franchise its first NBA title.
"The fan reaction was incredible, a bit overwhelming at times, a bit beyond anything I expected," Duncan said. "But it was great. It was flattering."
Duncan, 24, cannot officially sign with the Spurs until August 1. San Antonio could offer Duncan a seven-year deal worth $86.5m, the maximum allowable for re-signing a player. However, Duncan may opt to sign a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.
"Three years is a possibility," Duncan admitted. "The details (of the contract) will have to be worked out, but we have time to figure that out."
The Magic offered Duncan a six-year, $67.5m contract, the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement. The tandem of Duncan and Hill would have made the Magic an instant power in the Eastern Conference. But Duncan opted to stay with All-Star center David Robinson, keeping the "Twin Towers" intact in San Antonio.
"We have a great opportunity with David and myself being the core of the whole thing and us having done it (win a championship) before," Duncan said. "If we can continue to improve our team, pick up some key free agents, we have a chance to do it again."
The 36-year-old Robinson hopes to play a few more years with the Spurs, who are slated to leave the Alamodome and move into a new arena by the start of the 2002-03 season.
The 7-foot Duncan may elect to sign a three-year contract, giving him the option to leave after Robinson retires.
But for now, Duncan's return assures the Spurs of challenging the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference.
Spurs starting forward Sean Elliott, who became the first player in professional sports to play after a kidney transplant, was contemplating retirement, but put off any decision until after Duncan announced his future plans. Point guard Avery Johnson also said he would base his decision on whether to re-sign on Duncan's status.
The first overall pick in the 1997 draft, Duncan made an immediate impact as the league's Rookie of the Year, averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.51 blocks per game.
In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Duncan appeared in all 50 games and averaged 21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.52 blocks. After finishing third in the Most Valuable Player voting during the regular season, Duncan led the Spurs to their first NBA title and was named MVP of the NBA Finals, averaging 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds in San Antonio's four games to one series victory over the New York Knicks.
Last season, Duncan set career highs with 23.2 points and 12.4 rebounds, but missed the playoffs after suffering torn cartilage in his left knee. Without Duncan, the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by Phoenix.
Duncan was selected to play for the United States Olympic team. Despite undergoing surgery in late May, Duncan is expected to play for the United States. Duncan has career averages of 22.0 points and 12.0 rebounds - (AFP)
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