After years of success, the San Antonio Spurs are finally slowing down. If they decide to pursue a full rebuild these coaches would be great candidates.
For as long as he has been the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich has been the gold standard for coaching in the NBA. His resume speaks for itself and he is frequently recognized by his peers as one of the best in the game.
But in his 24th year as the leader of the Spurs, the five-time NBA Champion coach is finally going through a rough patch. Earlier this year we saw the Spurs go through one of the longest losing streaks of his tenure and things haven’t gotten much better since then. After making the playoffs for seemingly every year since he took over, Popovich and the Spurs find themselves on the outside looking in.
Pop’s decisions have been frequently called into question this year by players and fans alike. Questionable starting lineups and rotation adjustments, combined with some head-scratching free agent moves, have left many wondering if a full-scale rebuild might be in order.
Let’s be completely clear about one thing: this is not a call for Popovich to retire or be fired. He, along with the Big Three, had a critical role in making the San Antonio Spurs the organization they are today. His fingerprints are everywhere and there is no overstating the positive impact he has had. The head coaching job should be his for as long as he wants it.
That being said if the front office does decide that it’s time to hit the reset button that might be something that Pop wouldn’t be interested in. At 71 years old and third on the all-time regular seasons win list, who could blame him for wanting to finally kick his feet up and enjoy retirement.
If the team does decide to pursue a rebuild and Pop does decide to step away, these coaches would all be great candidates to lead the next iteration of the San Antonio Spurs.
Next: Bringing up a college coach
Jay Wright finally steps up to the NBA
We’ve seen college coaches make the jump to the NBA with mixed results. For every Brad Stevens, that’s established themselves as one of the top coaches in the league there are a few John Beilein’s that completely alienate their locker-rooms through thinking the same style they used in college will fly in the NBA. That, along with poor diction on a few choice words, will cost you your job in a heartbeat.
One college coach who has frequently been connected to NBA jobs has been Villanova’s Jay Wright. He’s been the Wildcats head coach since 2001 and has won two NCAA titles in his time in Philadelphia. He’s got all the job security in the world at Villanova but that hasn’t dissuaded Wright from being open about the attraction of NBA jobs.
Wright recently spoke on Sirus XM NBA Radio and wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings towards the possibility of coaching at an NBA level.
“I would love to coach in the NBA and maybe someday if I have that opportunity..”
He went on to mention his experience coaching with Popovich and other NBA coaches at the FIBA World Championship’s last summer as one of the reasons for those feelings. His relationship with Pop could be an added bonus to bringing Wright in. He would surely have his own system and own way of doing things but having a connection to Pop could make it easier to pick his brain on things that have worked well for the team in the past.
If San Antonio does decide to hit the reset button and focus on developing their young players then Wright would be a great choice. He’s spent close to twenty years molding young men into pros at one of the best programs in the NCAA and could have similar success in the NBA.
As an added bonus, Wright’s collection of designer suits would instantly make him one of the best-dressed coaches in the league. Look good, feel good, coach good.
Next: Another European Success
Igor Kokoskov gets a second chance
After serving on as an assistant coach for many years, Igor Kokoskov finally got his shot at being a head coach with the Phoenix Suns. He went 19-63 in his first year with the Suns and was showed the door shortly after the season ended. He joins an ever-growing club of former Suns head coaches.
One of the biggest critiques on Kokoskov’s brief tenure with the Suns was his inability to connect with the young roster. In a piece for AZ Central, Duane Rankin noted several times where players griped about Kokoskov not stepping up and taking a technical to defend his player or were borderline insubordinate, yelling instructions at their head coach from the floor.
Rankin was also sure to mention that some players acknowledged the difficulties of being a first-year coach and admitted that they could have done more to help. TJ Warren was one player that spoke to Rankin in Kokoskov’s defense.
“He was good,” Warren said two weeks ago. “Learning experience for a first-year coach. Everybody is going to have that learning curve. It’s how you respond to it. … As players, we’ve got to be able to get better and do the right things for how we want the season to be.”
Kokoskov is now an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, another team filled with young players. Hopefully, he heard some of the criticisms thrown his way after his time in Phoenix and has been working on building stronger connections with the young players on the team.
Internationally, he has led both the Slovenian and Serbian national teams, two of the best in the world. There is no doubt that he can coach. There is doubt that he can build meaningful connections with young players. For a team that could be approaching a rebuild that could be a huge turn-off.
Maybe this is putting a little too much faith in the Spurs culture but I’m sure that if Popovich were to retire veterans like Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge would step up to help the new coach. Having a few respected veterans in his corner could be the difference in Koskokov’s second chance at being a head coach.
Next: A former Knicks coach (there's a lot to choose from)
David Fizdale gets the job he deserves
If someone ever offers you an over/under bet on how long a given Knicks head coach will last, take the under. Right now they’re on their sixth coach since 2012 and with a new front office in place, it’s likely they’ll be on to their seventh by the time the 2020-21 season gets going.
David Fizdale made it just over one season with the Knicks before being let go after a 4-18 start to this season. Fizdale told Malika Andrews of ESPN that he has “no ill feelings” towards the organization after he was let go. I get it, if someone was still paying me over $5 million a year not to work I’d have a hard time having ill feelings towards them too.
At every stop, Fizdale has built a reputation as a players coach. Many of his former players speak very highly of his ability to relate to his players, his passion for making connections, and his skill at getting players to buy into what he’s teaching from the get-go.
Fizdale’s time as an assistant with the LeBron James led Miami Heat prompted James and Dwyane Wade to tweet out demands for answers in the wake of Fizdale’s firing in Memphis. Having two of the best players in the history of the game standing up for you after an undeserved firing is about as strong of an endorsement as you can get.
“He’s a friend, too,” Parsons said. “At the end of the day, you want to play good for him because you love him. You have a personal relationship with him outside of basketball. Not only is he a great coach, but just a great person, fun to be around, and he understands everything that we’re going through off the court and he understands the positions that we need to be in to succeed on the court.”
Fizdale checks all of the boxes for what San Antonio should be looking for in a coach to lead their rebuild. He’s a young guy, respected by veterans, able to relate to young players, and he seems to legitimately care about the men he is leading. He seems a lot like Popovich in that regard.
He still has two more years on his contract with the Knicks so Fiz can afford to sit back at home and weigh his options while cashing James Dolan’s checks. But if he ever shows a willingness to get back into the game the Spurs have to give him a call.
Next: An in-house promotion
Becky Hammon makes history
Funnily enough, after Fizdale was fired by the Knicks rumors arose that Becky Hammon was being targeted as the next coach of the Knicks. We immediately covered the development and were sure to voice our feelings that she should not take the job. Hammon’s next position, should she choose to accept it, should be as the next head coach of the San Antonio Spurs.
Hammon has been being groomed for this role since she joined the Spurs in 2014. Since then she has remained a fixture by Popovich’s side and has taken on a larger role with the team. At every step, she’s received high praise for her abilities and successes, including helping lead the Spurs Summer League team to the title in Las Vegas in 2015.
In any employment opportunity, the best person, the most qualified person, is ideally the one who gets the job. But let’s be honest with ourselves, that’s rarely the case. People hire people who look like them and Hammon is unlike any other head coach in the NBA.
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Taking on the historical significance of having the first female head coach in NBA history might dissuade other teams from taking a chance on Hammon but it’s highly unlikely that it would be a roadblock for the Spurs. She’s held in high regard by players and coaches alike, so much so that former Spur Pau Gasol published a piece with The Players Tribune about how impressed he was by her.
“I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
If the Spurs do eventually decide to promote Hammon to the lead role it won’t be because they’re seeking to make history. It will be because of her resume, the respect she’s earned in her years with the team, and because she’s the best person for the job.
Any one of these four candidates would be a great head coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Personally I’m hoping the team goes all-in on a rebuild this summer, hands the reins to Becky Hammon, and dives headfirst into a new and exciting era of Spurs basketball.