We don't know if Tim Duncan will return for a 20th season, but we know what his salary will be if he does. Duncan has elected to exercise the $5.6 million player option on his contract, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. However, he has not made a final decision on whether he'll actually play next season.
Last summer, Duncan signed a two-year contract with a player option for the second year. He had until June 29 to decide whether or not to pick up the option. He reportedly made the decision because he was up against the deadline, but Wojnarowski reports that "this offseason is the most seriously he's contemplated retirement."
How does that work? Duncan can later decide to retire, at which point he can be placed on the Voluntarily Retired List if both he and his team agree. That would prohibit him from returning to NBA action for at least one year, which shouldn't be an issue -- it's safe to say Duncan will only hang it up if he never intends to return.
And picking up the option actually helps the Spurs' free-agent dreams. Had Duncan elected to opt out and become a free agent as he contemplated his decision, the Spurs would be forced to keep a cap hold of 150 percent of his previous year's salary on the books. Duncan made $6 million last year, so that cap hold would be for $9 million. It would have been very difficult (but not impossible) for the Spurs to create enough cap space to sign a top free agent like Kevin Durant and still keep Duncan for anything more than the veteran's minimum. Worse, the Spurs would have needed a quick answer on Duncan's future so they could plan this summer.
This way, both sides win. Duncan saves the Spurs nearly $3.5 million in additional cap space, and every dollar counts. In return, the Spurs can now give him as much time as he wants to decide if he will return next season. As Wojnarowski reports, "the Spurs are allowing Duncan to make a decision on his own timetable." Picking up the player option makes that more possible.
The ageless Duncan averaged 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game last season, all career lows. He was still a towering defensive figure in the middle for the league's best defense, though he finally looked his age against the Thunder in the playoffs.