San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is set to enter his 27th season with the team and has already solidified his legacy. Not only is he the NBA's all-time winningest head coach, but he also has five championships, a gold medal, and three Coach of the Year awards.
With nothing else to prove, Popovich is clearly still coaching for the love of the game, and the Spurs would certainly welcome him back after next season. Despite that, maybe next season should indeed be his last as coach of the Spurs for the good of the team in the long term.
The Spurs may need a new coach to oversee a lengthy rebuild
After an encouraging first season of a rebuild, the Spurs opted to push back their timeline by drafting three teenagers and trading all-star Dejounte Murray. As a result, the Spurs are expected to be significantly worse next season, and they'll have incentive to do that with 7'4 center Victor Wembanyama as the projected number one pick. The team's fortunes could quickly change with Wembanyama but less so with another prospect.
While Popovich may not mind coaching a non-competitive team beyond next season, maybe the Spurs should. After all, there have been rumors that former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder could be the next Spurs coach, especially since he won't be coaching in the NBA next season. If true, the Spurs will have a chance to hire their preferred replacement but only if Popovich steps aside after next season.
If he doesn't, then the Spurs would have to find another replacement, assuming Snyder accepts another coaching position. That would be harder to do with many of Popovich's more experienced assistant coaches moving on to other teams, including Ime Udoka and Becky Hammon. Even if the Snyder stuff isn't true, the point remains that the Spurs' ability to replace Popovich will be hampered if they don't know how long he plans on coaching.
The ideal situation for the Spurs going forward
The ideal scenario would be for Popovich to announce that he's either retiring or stepping into a new front office role prior to next offseason. That way, potential candidates will have notice that there will be a coaching vacancy in San Antonio. With the Spurs possibly years away from even making the playoffs, they should be focusing on the future. Popovich can still have a hand in that, but from the front office. That might be for the best, and it would give their young players more time to adjust to and develop under a new coach.
In the meantime, Popovich is still coaching and still has the knowledge to give, which will benefit an increasingly younger team. Despite that, continuing to do so beyond next season may have diminishing returns for both his legacy and the team's future. To be clear, Popovich will still go down as one of the greatest coaches ever, but ending his legendary career by missing the playoffs for what's likely to be the fourth straight season isn't how he should end things.
Moreover, if he stays after next season, barring a big leap by Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson and the addition of Wembanyama, he could be looking at yet another losing season. Therefore, having a younger coach take over and guide the Spurs through their potentially long rebuild would be best. So yes, next season should be Popovich's last with the team.