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Gregg Popovich on the approaching end of Tim Duncan’s career: ‘It makes me sad’

San Antonio Spurs head coach Popovich talks to Duncan during the third quarter of play against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (L) talks to Tim Duncan during the third quarter of play against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio, Texas, June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)


The bond between Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and the team’s Hall of Fame big man Tim Duncan is as rare as it is undeniable.

The two have been together for 17 years, stringing together an unprecedented run of success that will be tough to top by any player-coach pair at any point in the future.

The Spurs have won five titles during that span, which is fine. But much more incredible is the fact that the team hasn’t suffered a single down season, winning at least 50 games in all but the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign, which, by the way, resulted in San Antonio posting a .740 regular season winning percentage before coming away with the team’s first championship.

Duncan contemplated retirement this summer, but ultimately decided to return for the final year of his contract. This may or may not be his last season, but the mere thought of the end of Duncan’s career is one that’s upsetting to Popovich.

From Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

“When he’s not at practice, I’m going to be little depressed, I think,” Popovich said this week. “It makes me sad. I’m going to miss it an awful lot…I’ll think about it when it happens and it’ll be tough, but until then I’m not going to start being unhappy now.” ...

The length of Popovich’s deal was not made public but it is believed to be for five more years. Popovich has joked for several years that he was headed out of the door right behind Duncan but he acknowledged that he will probably stick around beyond Duncan’s final season, whenever that is.

“That’s very possible. I always said that [he’d leave with Duncan], because it’s kind of a funny line. It seems pretty logical and smart to do that. I know where my bread is buttered,” Popovich said with a laugh. “But I basically made the same commitments to Manu [Ginobili] and to Tony [Parker] that when they signed contracts, they wanted to know if I’m going to be here and I tell them I am, so it’s pretty tough to go ahead and leave.”

Popovich’s deal isn’t iron-clad, obviously, and while Parker is under contract for four more years, Ginobili’s deal (like Duncan’s) is up at the end of the upcoming season.

Though the organization would like to keep him on as long as possible, once Duncan is done, it would be fairly easy to see Popovich similarly stepping away. Parker and Kawhi Leonard are the franchise cornerstones now, but as we saw in the Finals, Duncan is still monumentally important to his team’s ultimate level of success.

Things just won’t be the same in San Antonio once Duncan decides he’s finished. And Popovich knows that.