Heading into the 2013 NBA Finals, Manu Ginobili made clear in no uncertain terms that — despite turning in arguably his least productive season for the San Antonio Spurs since his rookie campaign (you can argue for Year 2 if you'd like) — he wasn't planning on retiring after the season. Midway through a struggle-filled championship round series against the Miami Heat, though, the Argentinian legend struck a more measured tone, answering questions about retirement with "I really don't know" and saying that, as he nears age 36, "everything is [on] a day-by-day basis."
So much has happened since then — the rise from the ashes in Game 5, the stunning 28-second collapse in Game 6, the haunting end to Game 7, the chance for another title squandered. At times in that seventh game, Ginobili was one of the Spurs' three best players, scoring 18 points and dishing five assists in 35 minutes, running the offense when Tony Parker was too exhausted or hamstring-hampered to do so, hitting two big 3-pointers that helped keep San Antonio n the title chase. But at times, he was also the nightmarish Manu of earlier in the series, making careless passes that led to crippling turnovers that stunted the Spurs' shot at another ring.
After Game 7, Ginobili told reporters he was "trying to put things in perspective, but it's very hard, and the next few days are going to be very hard." In a column published Monday in the Argentinian newspaper La Nación, Ginobili offered some of the fruits of his labor, including a comment on his next steps that seems to swing back toward his pre-Finals stance (with some help from Google Translate):
The future? After thinking about it a lot, and going over and over the bad moments that passed, I feel better and happy for the great season despite the outcome, and it is very difficult [to believe] that I am not going to continue playing. I do not think I'm so exhausted and frustrated with basketball to say, "Enough." I don't know altogether, I haven't made a decision, but I see it as unlikely that I will not play anymore.
While he has yet to make a definitive call, Ginobili writes that he's used these past few days to come out of his post-Finals-losing funk and try to look at the bigger picture:
For the moment, I am more tired and swamped with these ugly situations than when I was 27, but I still like this and am very lucky to have the role that I have on the team that I'm on with the people who lead me. I try not to miss the forest for the trees. This is a situation that is virtually unbeatable in sports. A moment of anger and frustration should not obscure the day-to-day and how well I am doing here.
OK, so right now, Manu can't see himself not playing next season, and he recognizes how good he has it in San Antonio ... so re-signing is just a matter of crossing the T's and dotting the I's, right?
I do not know what will happen but I feel that they want me back; I have no certainty because we still can not talk to the franchises.
Despite 2012-13 being the final season of a three-year extension he signed back in the spring of 2010, Ginobili had said multiple times earlier this year that he didn't want to begin negotiating a new deal until the end of the Spurs' season. Now that it's come, it seems all but certain that any negotiation will begin at a dollar amount far, far below the $14.1 million he earned this past season; it's hard to see a 36-year-old with 18 years of professional and international competition on his legs sniffing an eight-figure annual salary after shooting 42.5 percent from the floor during the regular season and just 30 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs.
If he, like Duncan before him, is cool with taking a very serious pay cut to afford R.C. Buford, Gregg Popovich and company as much flexibility as possible to help the Spurs make another deep postseason run, then it wouldn't seem like there's much reason for Manu to leave the friendly confines of the AT&T Center or the city limits of San Antonio, where he's as beloved a figure as the franchise has ever seen and still, generally speaking, a pretty solid secondary ball-handling and facilitating option behind Parker, even if the offensive explosions are fewer and further between these days.
As Ginobili wrote, he's yet to make a final decision, and it remains possible that the Spurs could look to go in another direction if the two sides can't make the dollars make sense. But just days after one of the darker moments in the history of both team and player, the chances of Manu returning to San Antonio may be brighter than they might have seemed, which is good news not only for Spurs fans, but also for the rest of us who aren't quite ready to see one of the greatest international players of all time ride off into the sunset just yet.