Jun 18, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts to cheering fans during the NBA championship parade at San Antonio River Walk. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
It was a little over a year ago when Gregg Popovich indicated he’d retire with Tim Duncan. Fast-forward and Duncan is set to play out the final season of his career while Coach Pop caught us all off guard when he signed a multi-year extension. So why is the longest tenured coach in the NBA sticking around for the post-Duncan era?
Popovich pegged Leonard as the future “face of the Spurs” in late 2012 and now we know why. Leonard’s breakout during the Finals shows there will be life in San Antonio beyond the Duncan era. Where the Spurs’ future after this coming season seemed so desolate, in steps Kawhi Leonard to lead San Antonio into another evolution and perhaps a dynasty of his own. We’ve only scratched the surface on Kawhi’s career meaning there’s no way Pop walks when this is just the beginning. There’s something coach saw in Leonard when he pulled out the draft day trade with Indiana and now we get to watch as Popovich mentors his next star through the start of his career.
New Faces, Same Game
The reality is Gregg Popovich really has no system. He hasn’t revolutionized the game with defense or introduced an offensive system powered by zen but credit the man for knowing what he wants and making it happen. Go back to the 1999 NBA Finals and make note of Duncan’s post-move, bank shot from long range. It appears this shot is open by way of David Robinson commanding so much attention through the paint; however, the same move is found nine years later. Different cast of players, same offensive motion, and the shot is open. So many coaches are overrated because of who’s playing for them, (ahem, Mike Brown), and how well said players fit into their system. Gregg Popovich will continue to find and develop players to play his game and we’ll still see that same post-move jumper from somebody wearing a Spurs’ uniform beyond the career of Tim Duncan.
The NBA Draft
The Spurs’ ability to draft impact players remains unmatched and we’re at point where its not even funny just how much farther ahead of the game Pop is from the rest of the field. Consider San Antonio hasn’t selected any higher than 20th overall since 1999 but yet a dozen of Pop’s draft selections have developed into impact NBA players. Expect this trend to continue as coach accepts the challenge to scout another wave of speedy, European players and of course, a pretty sizable replacement in the paint is also needed. All this work may be a little much to most guys who’ve done the job for over 40 years but as we know, Gregg Popovich is not “most guys.”
Pop joined Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and John Kundla as the only NBA head coaches with five or more rings. A pretty impressive dinner table but why stop there when one more ring means passing Riley and Kundla? “3rd all-time” has a nice ring to it, (no pun intended), and while catch Jackson’s 11 NBA titles is most unlikely, there’s an argument to be made considering Pop’s ability to sustain success without the benefit of a Jordan/Pippen or Shaq/Kobe. Coach Pop has garnered plenty of respect for his five championships but add one or even two more rings and we’re talking legendary.
It’s pretty simple…he’s not tired and he’s not bored, so why not? Things may change if the Spurs capture a 6th championship in 2015 but it’s not like there’s something better for him to do. Pop isn’t always the most approachable guy on the planet but he enjoys what he does for a living and it doesn’t hurt to only have to answer to ownership. He’ll most likely move back to the front office in the future, but for now he’s going to enjoy another however many years of violently waving his arms from the sidelines and almost making Doris Burke cry.
Could we really picture Gregg Popovich content with casting a line into the lake or hanging at the Shuffleboard court?