In the least surprising news you’ll hear today, 39-year-old San Antonio Spurs sixth man Manu Ginobili conceded in a recent interview with an Argentinian radio station that his career is nearing its end.
“I do not think it will go much longer,” Ginobili said of his career.
In the fewest minutes of his career (18.9 per game), Ginobili’s averages — 7.7 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds — are hovering at levels we’ve not seen from him since his rookie campaign in 2002-03. His overall field goal percentage has dropped below 40 percent, even if his 3-point percentage is still a stellar 38.9, and his role as playmaker off the bench has been surpassed by bench-mate Patty Mills.
Gone is Tim Duncan, who Ginobili won four NBA championships and appeared in a pair of All-Star Games alongside, and even the 34-year-old Tony Parker appears to be stepping one foot out the door. Ginobili is five years Parker’s senior — and even older in basketball years, having began his pro career as a teenager in 1995 and participating in Argentina’s national team program for two decades.
In their place are LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, and Ginobili sounded more comfortable passing the torch with the knowledge that San Antonio has built a bridge to its next title contender:
“I am much more relaxed,” added Ginobili, “the experience and the less daily responsibility has freed me a little of all the weight of carrying the team and not feeling that it’s all my fault.”
“Now, basketball is not a priority and I live more peacefully. My priority is my family, my children.”
That last statement, while completely normal for most non-basketball professionals, might not give the impression that Ginobili is committed to the Spurs’ championship pursuit in the now, until you realize proper work-life balance is a philosophy coach Gregg Popovich has preached to his players.
In a vacuum, or an Argentina radio interview in this instance, we should not read too much into Ginobili’s comments. However, he took some time before deciding to return to the Spurs this summer, and he bid an emotional farewell to his fans in his final games in Argentina and on the national team, so it’s only natural to speculate whether this season will be his last. He will be a free agent come July.
It was a two-year offer from the Philadelphia 76ers this past summer, reportedly in the $16 million-17 million range for Year 1, that led San Antonio to offer him a near career-high $14 million salary for 2016-17, so the revered Ginobili may have both the suitors and financial incentive to return to the game at age 40.
But he has made $122.5 million in his NBA career, and at some point it’s time to hang up the jersey. Whenever he does, Ginobili will do so with more rings, Olympic medals and basketball memories than most players will ever dream of, so he’s made the most of the career that doesn’t have much longer.
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