Nuclear fallout for Spurs?

The entire NBA season hasn’t been canceled yet. But given the glacier-like pace of the U.S. legal system and the fact that commissioner David Stern is throwing around doomsday phrases such as “nuclear winter,” that outcome seems more probability than possibility at this point.

If the 2011-12 season does wind up being scuttled because of the labor dispute, what happens to the Spurs’ roster going forward? Express-News staff writer Jeff McDonald takes a look at the Spurs’ hypothetical 2012-13 team, which could be rendered near unrecognizable by the year off:

No Duncan?

It’s difficult to imagine the Spurs without Tim Duncan, but the possibility exists the future Hall of Famer and bedrock of four championship teams already has played his final game.

Duncan’s contract is up in July, whether there’s a season or not. In order to play in 2012-13, he’ll have to sign a new one — with the Spurs or (unthinkably) some other team.

Those close to the two-time MVP say he has been keeping himself in fighting shape for a truncated 2011-12 campaign should the lockout end soon. Beyond that, only Duncan knows whether he wants to play next season or hang up his high-tops and await the call from the Hall of Fame.

What we do know: Duncan will be 36 when the mythical 2012-13 season begins and 37 when it ends. He will hypothetically have had a year off to spend at home with his two young children. It could be awfully tempting for him to stay there.

An old Manu

Unlike Duncan, Manu Ginobili already is under contract for 2012-13. But it is difficult to predict exactly how effective the Argentine All-Star might be by then.

Ginobili will be 35 when that season begins, an age in which the decline already has set in for most NBA guards, and he’ll be coming off an Olympics appearance to boot.

At 33, Ginobili was still good enough to carry a team last season, averaging 17.4 points and earning his second career All-Star bid. By this time next year, it will be hard to imagine him as much more than a glorified role player.

Along the same lines: Tony Parker will be 30 before the 2012-13 season tips off, an age at which his production could be expected to begin to fall off. The real tragedy of the lockout for Spurs fans? It already has abridged what might have been the Big Three’s final season of elite productivity and could be poised to erase it completely.

No Dice, R.J.

If the next collective bargaining agreement includes an amnesty provision allowing teams to waive one player without incurring a salary-cap hit, you can bet Richard Jefferson probably won’t be around to start the 2012-13 season. The Spurs could jettison the underachieving small forward and slice the $10.1 million he’s owed that season from their cap number. No harm, no foul.

Though Antonio McDyess was strongly hinting at retirement at the end of last season, Spurs brass was quietly hopeful they could talk the 37-year-old center into returning for a shortened 2011-12 campaign. If this season is wiped out, forget it. McDyess remains retired.

Rookies galore

As of now, the Spurs only have eight players under contract for the 2012-13 season: Ginobili, Parker, Jefferson, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair and James Anderson. The rest of the roster would be rounded out predominantly with two draft classes of rookies.

The Spurs already have two first-rounders from June’s draft — forward Kawhi Leonard and point guard Cory Joseph — in lockout limbo still awaiting their NBA debut. Add to that one or two new draftees from next June’s draft, which takes place with or without a new CBA, and the Spurs will be up to Gregg Popovich’s eyeballs in rookies.

That doesn’t even take into account French point guard Nando de Colo or any of the Spurs’ other overseas projects who might be ready to jump to the NBA next summer.

No Pop?

The running joke around Spurs headquarters is that Popovich will tender his resignation papers about 30 seconds after Duncan. In recent years, however, Popovich has privately considered sticking around longer for the franchise’s transition out of the Duncan era.

It’s a noble idea, but given an entire year off, would Popovich really want to re-start his engines for another season-long grind at age 64? Maybe not, especially if Duncan is gone and Popovich is forced to rebuild around the aforementioned roster of rookies.

It isn’t difficult to envision the longest-tenured active coach in major American sports shuffling off to a vineyard somewhere — and leaving the Spurs in search of a new bench leader for the first time since 1996. Popovich, like Duncan, could simply sit back and wait for his engraved Hall of Fame invitation.

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