Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing at a high level. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing at a high level. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

If you took a poll of their peers and asked them to name, year in and year out, the best coach in the NBA, the same name usually would show up.

Gregg Popovich.

That’s what happens when you spend 18 years establishing roots and a philosophy in a Spurs franchise that produces four NBA titles, 15 consecutive seasons of at least 50 victories and the best record in the Western Conference three of the past four seasons.

“I think for everybody in the league, you hope to get to that point where the established players, Hall of Fame type players, play in a system together for a long time,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “They know each other, know the amount of effort that it takes, know how to get ready for games and how to get ready for series and how to get ready to win championships. All those things come from some time. It’s been a phenomenal run. In my career in the NBA, it’s been the most sustained long run. It’s just amazing that Pop gets them to play the same way every year.”

But especially this year, when the pages on the calendar cry out that Tim Duncan is soon-to-be 38, Manu Ginobili is 36 and Tony Parker is 31. Especially this year when the Spurs have worn the scars of their devastating loss of a fifth championship that was in their grasp until the last 28 seconds of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Especially this year when Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Parker and Ginobili all spent stretches of time on the shelf with injuries or assorted aches and pains.

“Even if you have talent in this league, it isn’t as easy as people think,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “You have to get guys to come together and get them to buy in and find a way that they can play as a team.”

Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in any professional sport, has won Coach of the Year honors twice before in 2003 and 2012. But the work he’s done this season just might be his finest.

He is the first to tell you that the Spurs keep winning year after year because they have the talent, professionalism and unselfish nature of their Big Three to be committed to common team goals. But they continue to succeed again and again because Popovich has ingrained a system where the ball moves to find the open man and the best shot on offense and the defenders’ feet move to cut off open shots by their opponents.

The cast of supporting characters changes frequently, but what doesn’t is the requirement to stick to the same basic, demanding understanding of how the game is played. He won’t lower his own expectations, but will constantly raise your own.

This season Popovich has coaxed and nurtured the Spurs to 62 wins in the powerful Western Conference, all while carefully managing the minutes of his stars. Not a single player on the roster plays an average of 30 minutes per game. Parker is at 29.6, Duncan and Leonard at 29.2, Ginobili 22.8. Parker is the team’s leading scorer at only 16.7 per game, but the Spurs have nine different players averaging at least 9.1.

The Spurs are strong. They are deep. They are resilient and healthy going into the playoffs and ready again to drill into opponents what has been drilled into them — the sheer simplicity and brutal efficiency of playing one way.

Pop’s way. Which proved to be the best way. Again.

The contenders

Doc Rivers, Clippers — The veteran coach made the cross country hop and immediately changed the culture and the attitude of the franchise. He demanded and got more out of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and made a good team into a real playoff threat.

Jeff Hornacek, Suns — Getting his first chance as head coach, the last thing Hornacek wanted to hear was lottery talk. He took a disparate group of players and got them to share the ball and make the most of their ability. Nearly winning 50 games in the West is not to be undervalued.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — When Derrick Rose went down in the 10th game, he could have cursed the fates. When Luol Deng was given away to Cleveland, he could have thrown up his hands. Instead Thibodeau keeps grinding and now the Bulls are a fearsome matchup for anyone in the playoffs.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats — Another rookie head coach who gave the Bobcats what they’d been lacking for so long — an identity and a plan. He turned the worst defense in the league into one of the best (No. 6), made Al Jefferson the calling card of his offense and lifted Charlotte into the playoffs.

60 Comments

  1. Fred says:

    Arsene Wenger has had a longer active tenure at Arsenal FC (an english soccer [the biggest and most popular sport in the world) club)…

  2. jdub455 says:

    Horny should win this one… the spurs has been playing the same way for the past years already… as much as popovich is a “maestro” in coaching, much of his success can be attributed to TD and the gang also… not to take anyway from him though coz he is definitely one of the great coaches. But horny shld be recognized for what he’s team has achieved despite of the lineup he had, plus Bledsoe’s injury… They not only exceeded expectations but they achieved what was never expected of them. No one expected them to win this much.

  3. dustydreamnz says:

    It depends what it’s measured on. If it’s sheer performance of the team then Pop should win it a lot. If it’s the teams improvement from year to year then you need to look at Jeff Hornacek or Dwayne Casey.

    • Mike says:

      It’s based on the success a coach has considering the tools he had at his disposal, making it a true reflection of his coaching abilities.

  4. Ted says:

    Pop definitely deserves it. With all the injuries and different starting line ups they used it’s amazing they won 50 games. I see comments about their talent and best players in the league, but when it comes time for the All Star game none of the Spurs are good enough to get voted in. Parker only goes on a coaches choice. So you have a team with 1 All Star, and could have been none. Win 62 games, and give away the last two or it would have been 64. Have no player score over 17pts a game and no player play over 30 minutes a game, and people say Pop doesn’t deserve it. If anything he should have won more. Clearly should have in the 99 lock our year and 2007. He also does this with a small market and a much lower payroll than most teams in the league with a bunch of players no one wanted like Danny Green,Boris Diaw, Bonner, Jeff Ayers, Marco Bellinelli, Patty Mills, Aaron Baynes, Tiago Splitter, etc… Also done with mostly foreign players.

  5. Patty says:

    What about Mark Jackson, Doc Rivers, Dwane Casey, AND Thibodeau SHOULD GET CONSIDERATION.

    Gregg Popovich has done nothing but lose to the miami HEAT IN THE 2013 FINALS.

    VOTE NO FOR Gregg Popovich.

    • Mike says:

      The award is could coach of the “year”. What is it about the word, “Year” that you don’t understand? 2013 was last year, and 2014 is this year. Next year will be 2015 because 15 comes after the number 14.

  6. Elray says:

    K Mill. Ur a hater son!!!!! Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are their only top 20 picks. Parker and Ginobili were available late in the draft. The Lakers had D-Howard, Kobe, Nash, Paul G, Meta World Peace and they were terrible together. Mailman and J Stock never won a title togeher its not just talent thats wins u rings its the system and the way u present it. Top 3 Coach of all time 1 Phill 2 Red 3 Pop

  7. Aaron says:

    Doc shouldn’t be on there the clippers didn’t improve that that much.. But worst coach of the year would definitely go to mike brown here in Cleveland. He needs fired I hope Cleveland don’t think lebrons coming back if browns head couch the guy can’t even control the locker room let alone andrew bynum taking half court shots he can’t help kyrie and Dion’s friendship either look what popovich did he sends two of his players to a concert to solve there differences what does brown do? Benches Dion. Worst coach in the world

  8. Micah says:

    Oh come on now, this guy is coach of the year? This season they beat everyone EXCEPT the Thunder…Thunder beat them 4-0 this season. SO what if they got a good win-loss record..that’s the other teams they played..still couldn’t beat the Thunder this year and it’s going to be Thunder Vs. Spurs in the western conference finals, and seeing they couldn’t beat the Thunder in the regular season..I think Thunder is back in the finals this year! As for the east, I would like to see Heat get knocked out, but then again, a Thunder vs. Heat rematch would be nice to see, as we finally beat them in the regular season this year. SOOO my prediction is Thunder vs. Heat in the NBA finals once again. GO THUNDER!

  9. LukaN says:

    Pop has done an amazing thing through these 15 years, but if you want to be realistic, the coach who pulled out the most with NO great talents in these last 2 years, especially this year is coach Thibodeau! I think coach of the year should not go to someone who did a good or a great job with a good team like Pop or Doc Rivers but to the coach who is solely responsible for the success of the team. If any other coach, with due respect to all, stayed without Rose and Deng, two out of their top three players they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs and the Bulls made it almost to the 3 seed in the east!!! And people are forgetting that they stayed without most of their bench players from last season as well. If that isn’t a success then I don’t know what is. Just imagine Miami without Lebron and Wade all season. Clippers without Paul and Griffin, Toronto without Derozan and Lowry , Suns without Dragic or Bobcats without Jefferson…all of them wouldn’t even be in this conversation because most likely they would have missed the playoffs this season. And Chicago is not only there but a dangerous team to meet up with as well. Who can argue with that?

  10. Alfred says:

    I think Jason Kidd deserves the award. A first-year coach who is able to make the playoffs…Remember last year, he was still a player. =)

  11. Realmacarooni says:

    Pop definitely deserves it. Best record in the league. No doubt Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are talented players, but there are a lot of other teams much more talented, aka the Heat, Thunder, Nets, Warriors, Clippers but these teams don’t have the best record in the league. Why? Cause they don’t have a COY. Sure, Casey and those other coaches may have “exceeded expectations” but their expectations weren’t that high to begin with. What they did is admirable, but no way in hell are they on Pop’s level. Thibs might be a close 2nd, but he really needs to learn player management to minimize injuries on his players. It’s admirable that the Bulls have the “Go hard or die trying” mentality but when it costs an arm and a leg for a win, it really isn’t worth it in the bigger picture.

  12. KMIll says:

    Popovich has three of the games best players on his roster. And he still manages to coach them into losses most post seasons. There are SO many other coaches who accomplish more with SO much less talent. So what if the Spurs have won a few rings…with that much talent they SHOULD have won a LOT more. Popovich shouldn’t be rewarded, he should be fired for how many times the Spurs, with all the talent in the world, have fallen short. A better coach would have won six rings with this team.

    • thatguy says:

      Fired?! I don’t think so just as much talent he has other teams have that much talent maybe more you can’t win it every year the fact that he has “a few rings” says enough and made it back to the finals last season he doesn’t deserve to be fired you can’t win every year especially with teams having LBJ, DWADE, KD, CP3, BLAKE, GEORGE, CURRY, DIRK, WESTBROOK, MELO ETC the list can go on with teams with talent and only two of the names I listed have rings that they won together if they didn’t team up only one name on that list would have won a ring those are the best players in the world.

    • Mike says:

      Go ahead and name these SO many other coaches who have apparently accomplished SO much more, and at the same time go ahead and name the SO much less talent they’ve had to work with.

      How about I give you a little help:

      First let’s have a look at the NBA coaches who have accomplished SO much more than Gregg Popovich. Once again, you might need my help. There are three coaches who have achieved SO much more than coach Pop. Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Red Auerbach (4 if you include John Kundla but the NBA only had 8-10 teams when he coached).

      Secondly, you need to look at the SO much less talent these three coaches had to work with.

      Phil Jackson who won 11 championships in 20 years with 2 different teams (Bulls and Lakers): He had SO much less talent with only 4 of the top 50 greatest players of all time; Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

      Red Auerbach who happened to coach the Boston Celtics for 20 years to win 9 championships: He had SO much less talent with only 3 of the top 50 greatest players of all time; Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy.

      Pat Riley has also achieved SO much more in 24 years with the Lakers and Heat by winning a monster number of 1 more championship than Gregg Popovich. He also had SO much less talent to work with 4 of the top 50 players of all time; Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Shaq.

      Nice one genius.

    • Daniel says:

      This is the single dumbest comment I’ve ever read on this website.

    • Love the game says:

      Sorry dude here’s where you are wrong. Besides Timmy D, who’s elite dominance has faded over the years, there are no talents on this roster comparable to other star studded teams like, ie Heat, OKC, Nets – and that’s just mentioning the teams this year, not the other star studed teams that the Spurs have faced in the past on their quest to the titles or WCF. Ask yourself this, where were the Spurs players before, other than Timmy D? They were either playing on mediocre teams with very few minutes, or waived, or drafted in the 2nd round. Pop has moulded them into stars by exploiting their strengths and integrated them into a system that is envied by other coaches. So yes, you are right, the Spurs have tons of stars, but mainly because of Pop.

  13. okc2014 says:

    Coach Scotty Brooks should win. Look what he did to the OKC bench. Jackson, Collison, Adams, Fisher, Lamb, Butler, Jones and Robeson are AMAZING!!!!!

  14. jack says:

    Somebody compared Phil Jackson with Pop. Phil is star’s coach. Pop a player developer. Imagine Pop coaching Jordan, Shaq, Pippen. Multiple championships for sure. Phil coaching Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, no way a championship. Just look at Pop’s roster Leonard, Splitter, Green; a bunch of nobodies before Pop’s intervention; now stars. Phil would not do that. He simply has no patience for that; however he has a great nose to get involved where true talent is. For example, he was never interested to coach Kobe and a bunch of nobodies lately. Pop is far more superior than Phil. Pop you deserve the honor!

  15. raps says:

    he did good, but Dwane Casey did better

  16. bucksfan1992 says:

    Mike D’Antoni should be on the list, if not runner-up to Popovich!

    • JOSH says:

      Are you like crazy? Maybe he should change his name to Mike Antoni because he doesn’t have any D

  17. I also believe that these one year coach who have miracle seasons shouldn’t be considered because the next year when the coach waves his wand, theres no magic there just a team that goes back to their losing ways.

  18. Im sorry my bad Coach Pop a future Hall of Fame Coach.

  19. I have been a Spur fan since their ABA days, I have a hard time getting over last years heartbreaking lost to a much disliked Miami Heat team who is buying Championships the Spurs were in a perfect time and place to defeat greed and evil of the Miami heat team and what does pop do in game 6 take out his rebounders for the last few seconds!!!!! how can pop a Hall of Fame Proffesional coach lose the NBA Finals on Elementary play? didn’t logic tell him that they would be shooting desperation 3′s to try to get back in the game! well any way we all know what happen they show it every time the Spurs play on National t.v. well anyway even if the Spurs do go and win the tittle this year it will always be a missing tooth in the Spurs smile, thanks to pop and Gionolbi who I feel is a shell of what he useta be turnovers, turnovers!! hes horrible! Im a baskeball fan first and a Spurs fan second, if they fire pop and trade gionolbi tomorrow it wouldn’t bother me.

    GREG.

  20. GMan0127 says:

    Tell what other coach has gone 42 – 22 after starting the season 6 – 12?

  21. rich says:

    Casey or Hornacek , followed by Stotts. The other coaches mentioned that have superstars would make the playoffs even without a coach for crying out loud.

  22. Paul says:

    Raptors never get the love… Casey surely deserves mention and a lot of praise for what he did with this Raptors squad. Tho I still think Pop should win the award. Here are the main reasons why:
    1: Lost in the Finals and still came out winning in the reg season like nothing happened
    2: Only team this year to get past the 60 win mark
    3: Getting the very best out of his players. Just look at Patty Mills and Bellinelli, and the “old guys” Duncan and Ginobili.

  23. rich says:

    Who cares – it wil lbe another first round exit for the Spurs !

  24. rich says:

    Don’t be fooled by their ‘silent’ and ‘false humble’ demeanor … the whole Spurs organization screams ARROGANCE !!!

  25. Ryan says:

    Dwayne Casey deserves consideration.

  26. A says:

    I agree with Pop being the coach of the year, but Terry Stotts should definitely be a candidate. How is he not on that list?!
    Dwayne Casey should also be on that list.

  27. Spurs Forever Fan says:

    Well said Mark Olsen! Best COY POP! GO SPURS GO!

  28. Richard says:

    Oh come on, ANY COACH, can coach a team with Duncan,Ginobili, and parker. The guy who should be coach of the Year, is DWAYNE CASEY OF TORONTO, took a team that was predictied to finish last, and took it to the playoffs. made his team and his players much better CASEY SHOULD BE C.O.Y.!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Moe says:

    I’m plenty sure game 6 of Finals got rig for the Spurs to lose. Vegas got their number everytime. It’s the NBA mafia of David Stern he wants his Golden Boy “The Chosen 1″ to win. If Spurs win the Finals then NBA lose money.

  30. Tomi says:

    cant believe Dwayne Casey is not on the list.. This is unbelievable.

  31. Dan The Man says:

    this coach is a good coach and can make a team go all the way even when his players are 100 yrs. old

  32. Pop is a perfect candidate for this award! My only thing is he better now make that decision he did the last time sitting Tim Duncan out in a close out game up 94-89 with a 3-2 lead and let Chris Bosh get a rebound to kick out to Ray Allen that allowed a come back for the Heat and take the series! Check out HeKnowsHisSport’s page for rich and controversial videos covering the NBA playoffs and other NBA related topics. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKyTFOwWTESEo0Y3AxKaV5g

  33. Leonardo says:

    Pop is the “angry master”!!!

    Greatest coach in NBA since Phil Jackson retired.

    The spurs excelled everybody this year. They used their’s full engine only a couple times and still, the record in the league. By far.

  34. Tom says:

    Dwayne Casey… lol. Toronto’s improved based on player changes. They were absolutely terrible under Casey before. They just got rid of Rudy Gay + Bargs, they always had the talent, especially with the addition of Lowry. Plus the East is weak as piss, the award has to go West.

  35. spursfan says:

    Same record as the suns…but I agree. He should definitely be in the conversation.

  36. Carl Bennett says:

    I think the biggest reason why Pop should get it is for leading his team back to the top seed and finals favorite again, despite a mentally devastating Finals lost last year. To be 28 seconds away is enough to derail the mindset of a player, but it didn’t happen to the Spurs.

  37. Jack says:

    Doc Rivers, no way. His name really never surfaced throughout the entire year. All of a sudden he is a contender.
    I think D. Casey had it hands down. The unfairness in the NBA hits an all time high.

  38. David says:

    So i guess Dwayne Casey gets no mention. Seeing as he has a better record then both Charlotte, Chicago and the Suns. If the fool writing this had any clue what he was talking about Casey be right there.

  39. GoRaps says:

    Dwane Casey should at least get a mention. Franchise record for wins, 3rd seed in east and first post season appearance in 6 six years.

  40. Tom Thibodeau says:

    I completely disagree with Blindbury. Either, Jeff Hornecak, Tom Thibodeau, and Steve Clifford should win this year. All these teams were counted out early in the season but these coaches inspired their players to keep pushing regardless of talent. No doubt Pops is the best coach in the league right now but he has a great roster to begin with. A great coach brings the best out of players who are overlooked (Suns: Tucker/Morris twins/Green, Bulls: Augustine/Gibson/Butler, Bobcats: Walker, Henderson, Roberts).

    • MarkOlsen says:

      Dear Tom,

      What you don’t understand is that the Coach of the Year should be for the BEST Coach for the given year. This is not for the guy who accidently had a roster that worked due to no fault of his own (Casey). Nor is it the “Rookie Coach of the Year” (Clifford, Hornacek). Nor is it for the guy that took over a good team and made it better (Rivers). Nor is it for the guy that did surprisingly well despite a serious injury (YOURSELF). As an aside, if you had bothered to rest D. Rose properly and take care of him, he wouldn’t always be broken. Popovich is the BEST COACH. No Spur is even CLOSE to an NBA award, and there is a good chance there will be NOT ONE SPUR on the All-NBA first or second team. Duncan and/or Parker will be lucky to be third team if that. The Spurs are 62-20 last time I checked and had the best record in the NBA, DESPITE the overall talent level. Why? Coaching.

      Best Regards,

      San Antonio Spur Fan

      • Tom Thibodeau says:

        To Mark,
        I see your point and your frustrations that Pops is the only Spur being close to winning an award but I kinda disagree on what embodies a COY. Although having the best record in the league helps, I feel that the NBA needs to reward those coaches who have defied expectations (Hornacek: having a bunch of role players/Clifford:changing player culture/Casey:for turning the team around) or have fought through immense adversity (Me: losing Rose/Deng). And for the record, Rose was well rested. His injury came early in the preseason something I couldnt avoid. Many Bulls players take on heavy minutes and if that’s what’s required to win, players need to be ready. Everyone agrees Pops is the best coach in the league and his system works but it’s what he has been doing for years. If he wins it, I won’t be upset. I just feel the award should recognize other attributes including W-L ratio.

      • krespino says:

        The unexpected success of the Bulls is largely because of Joakim Noah’s play, not bec of Tib. Noah is performing at a different level and doing it for himself not bec of coaching or whatever.
        Tib almost killed Deng last year overusing him.No Noah and no success for Tib.

  41. lino says:

    it truly is a simple formula, as blinebury notes: “…the talent, professionalism and unselfish nature of their Big Three to be committed to common team goals.” and “…a basic, demanding understanding of how the game is played.” and “…the sheer simplicity and brutal efficiency of playing one way.”

    any egos on the team are clearly in check, there is no chest-thumping cry baby drama queen on the team, and the cerebral level of the players is likely tops in the league.

    congrats, pop. and go, spurs, go.

  42. Pop??? C’mon u gotta be kiddin’!! It was a good season for the Spurs but the challenge Jeff Hornacek had was far bigger compared to Pop…..

    Not to mention what Tom Thibodeau went through this season & still rocking with the Bulls.

    So it can’t be Pop man c’mon!

    • Teams suffered with lots of injuries. But, what team still survived and made it on top? Enough said.

    • mattyice says:

      your a fool Pop is making history every year your just a hater 60+ wins is nothing to take lightly

    • ALL teams suffered lots of injuries. POP still managed to win on top. I would give Hornacek a consideration IF they made the playoffs, at least. Yes, Fran ain’t kidding. POP has been the best ever, their organization and HOW he cares for his players. ROSE was OVERplayed causing him to get hurt more and missed playing with the team. The Bulls are finally playing well without relying too much on Rose. They should be A-okay next season.

    • mamba magic says:

      with your logic.. Lakers won 28 with a D-League team!!! … Dumtoni.. COTY… give it to him!!