Coach Pop's Most Impressive Season Happened After Tim Duncan
When talking about Gregg Popovich's coaching career, you can only get so far without mentioning Tim Duncan. Pop coached Timmy for all 19 seasons of his illustrious career, and the two formed one of the greatest player-coach duos the league has ever seen. If the two had never partnered together in an NBA setting, the Spurs' history as a franchise looks a lot different.
In an interview leading up to Tim's Hall of Fame induction, Popovich was asked about the big man's importance to the Spurs' dynasty. He put it bluntly: "No Duncan, no championships." And he was exactly right.
For this reason, I believe the season after Tim Duncan's departure from the Spurs is when Popovich deserves the most credit and praise. He faced a challenge unlike any he'd encountered in his career to that point, and he seamlessly put together another incredible season in San Antonio.
When Tim Duncan's retirement press release went public on July 11, 2016, Popovich was faced with the reality that he'd be without his on and off-court leader and generational star player for the first time since 1997.
He would be forced to take a different approach in preparing for the 2016-17 season than he had in the past. His roster was still talented, with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker still around, but losing a top 10 player of all time was never going to be easy.
On opening night, the Spurs traveled to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors. Fresh off a record-breaking 73-9 season, Golden State had just landed Kevin Durant in free agency and was one of the most star-studded teams in NBA history. The hype surrounding the Warriors was tremendous. But Popovich and the Spurs put together a dazzling performance on the road, outclassing the Warriors from start to finish and crushing them, 129-100.
While the Spurs faced terrible luck in those playoffs, that doesn't discredit everything Coach Popovich accomplished that year, as I'll further explain after the jump.