Tim Duncan and the most important decision in recent NBA history

What if it had been Duncan with Doc in Orlando instead of T-Mac?
Rob Bradford had a great look today at just how close Doc came to coaching Tim Duncan in Orlando back in the Summer of 2000. A dozen years have clouded the memory but reality is that Duncan was extremely close to spurning the Spurs and heading to Disney World just 3 years into his career. Doc, who was just one year into his coaching career, thought the Magic were going to land Duncan.

I just thought we had a great shot at him. You could see he was leaning our way a little bit, but he had the loyalty to Pop, and, to me, that was tough to fight against.

As for Duncan, he was extremely impressed with Doc in his visit to Orlando, so much so that he nearly signed there.

I think his confidence is what stood out. He was very confident in what he thought he could put together and the type of team he wanted to have.

At the end of the day the Big Fundamental chose loyalty to Popovich and San Antonio over Doc and the up and coming Magic. The Spurs of course went on to win three additional titles (they had already won in 1999) while Duncan has become the greatest power forward of all time.

That same Summer Orlando was able to seal the deal with fellow free agent Grant Hill (who shared a recruiting trip with Duncan) with a 7 year, $93 million dollar deal. Hill immediately fell apart physically, missing an incredible 374 games over the course of the deal. With Hill sidelined and Duncan busy winning titles in San Antonio, the Magic were unable to build on their surprising 1999-2000 season, and by December 2003, Doc was fired.

But what could've been? Let's take a look at the Butterfly Effect of Duncan's decision:

For Duncan: There is no doubt that Duncan would've continued his Hall of Fame career path in Orlando, but would he have the titles? In 2003 Duncan had David Robinson at the end of his career, and Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker at the beginning of theirs. In 2005 and 2007, he had Ginobli and Parker in their primes. In Orlando he would've had an injury plagued Hill, and not much else (Tracy McGrady was traded for and signed in August AFTER Duncan spurned the Magic. He would not have been acquired with both Duncan and Hill in the mix). There's a very good chance that Duncan's prime would've been wasted on an average team.

For Doc: What would Doc have been able to do with Duncan and a bunch of nobodies? Probably overachieve. But with a huge payroll and not a lot of talent, how soon would Doc have been on the hot seat if the Magic hadn't made deep playoff runs? Would he have been a coaching free agent before the 2004 season when he signed with the C's? Unlikely. So many questions here.

For the Celtics: Without Doc in the mix, who would the Green turn to for their head coaching vacancy before the '04-05 season? It's important to remember that Danny was so enamored with Doc that he hired him just four days after the C's 2003-2004 season ended. So without him in the mix, the C's would've had to dramatically alter their direction. And without Doc, does Pierce remain happy through several more losing seasons before the Big 3 came together? Again this is all revisionist history, but Doc in many ways was instrumental in bringing the trio together. Without Doc, the chances of the 2008 titles happening the way it did are slim to none.

For the Magic: With Duncan in the mix their is no way that Orlando finishes 2003-04 with 21 wins, which means their's no way they would've ended up with Dwight Howard. The other awful teams that season that may have ended up with Howard included the Hawks, Bulls, Clippers and Wizards. Dwight in LA a full eight years earlier? Could've happened. The Magic were truly screwed not when Duncan decided to return to San Antonio, but when Hill has accepted their offer. If Orlando had built around McGrady and another star, they still could've been a force in the East.

I could go on forever with this (Popovich & the Spurs, T-Mac, the Lakers without Duncan in the West, ect.) but I think the point has been made. While their have been a ton of big free agents to hit the market over the years, a 25 year old Tim Duncan choosing the Spurs over the Magic may have had a bigger impact than any other decision in league history.

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