Pop (hmmph) picks up third Coach award

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The best of Gregg Popovich (2013 playoffs)

SAN ANTONIO — Even after coaching 217 playoff games over the last 17 seasons, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich embarked on another postseason Sunday with butterflies swirling.

“Heck yeah,” Popovich quipped 90 minutes before the Spurs began their 17th consecutive playoffs under the coach everybody knows as ‘Pop.’ “If you don’t get nervous, you’re dead.”

The gruff Air Force Academy graduate is maybe the only coach in U.S. sports who has to come to be as celebrated for his typically terse exchanges with the media — particularly for his now famous, one-word retorts to television sideline reporters — as he is for his enduring legacy with a single franchise.

On Tuesday, Popovich, 65, added yet another layer to his rich, sure-fire Hall of Fame career as the recipient of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year. He led the Spurs to a 62-20 record, the best record in basketball, made more impressive because it came on the heels of a devastating loss last year in the NBA Finals.

“I feel very honored for a whole lot of reasons,” Popovich said at the news conference announcing the award. “First of all because there were so many coaches who did such a great job this year. I think it was really unique. A lot of people were really special and to be singled out is pretty humbling. I know I’ve been very lucky for a good number of years and I know full well I just represent part of what goes on here.”

It’s his third Coach of the Year honor and second in the last three years. He joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only coaches to win the award three times. Popovich totaled 380 points, including 59 first-place votes, from a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

First-year Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek finished second with 339 votes, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau was third, Charlotte’s first-year coach Steve Clifford was fourth and Toronto’s Dwane Casey finished fifth in the voting. (Complete voting totals here.)

Popovich also won the award following the 2011-12 season and also for 2002-03, the season in which Manu Ginobili joined Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to form the Big Three. They won their first of three championships that season. (Popovich won another title with Duncan and David Robinson back in 1999.) The Spurs entered these playoffs as the reigning Western Conference champions, boasting the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

That consistency is the hallmark of Popovich’s 18-year career in San Antonio. This season included a 19-game winning streak and only one losing streak of more than two games (three, back in late January). The Spurs extended their streak of winning at least 50 games to an NBA record 15 consecutive seasons.

The Spurs’ 62 wins is their second-highest total under Popovich, one fewer than the 2005-06 team. This team was an offensive juggernaut, ranking sixth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 108.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 in 3-point shooting at 39.7 percent. At the other end they ranked fourth overall in defensive efficiency and second in the Western Conference.

Popovich achieved it while masterfully managing his team’s minutes and particularly his two aging stars, Duncan, 38, and Ginobili, 36. Popovich limited every player on the roster to less than 30 minutes a game while nine players averaged at least 18.9 mpg.

“We saved minutes all year long so we could give those minutes come playoff time,” Popovich said.

Rick Adelman‘s announcement Monday that he was stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves moved Popovich to the top of the list of career victories among active coaches — ninth on the all-time list — with a record of 967-443. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (644-498) is second and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle (569-339), who is matching wits with Popovich in their first-round playoff series, is third.

“Pop’s the best coach in the game and for my money he’s the best coach in history because of what he’s been able to do over a period of almost two decades, keeping the same system and just plugging in different players,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in all four major professional U.S. sports.

38 Comments

  1. standard says:

    if you have lebran in your team you can not get Coy

  2. Kalbo!! says:

    I personally don’t really give so much damn whether they win the championship again or not.

    Of course i would be be delighted for they deserve it. But it’s not about the ring. Their 17 years says it all. Rings are now just for the business. Manipulations happen to influence and help the market-favorite team to win.

    Imagine the Spurs being that consistent and even winning 4 titles with the whole NBA organization pulling them down.

    Enough said. Even if heat makes their 3peat this season (although it seems unlikely) they can’t be compared to the Spurs! Not even close. It’s like comparing kobe to MJ.

  3. okc2014 says:

    Coach Pop deserved this award and quite frankly there is no close 2nd. Congrats.

  4. Sarik Jeram says:

    Popovich improved the already-good Spurs’ record by 4 wins as compared to last year. Hornacek lead the Suns to 23 more wins than last season and let’s not even forget to mention that the Suns were predicted to win no more than 16~19 games (depending on who you ask). And the fact that he did this as a ROOKIE HEAD COACH should have been all the more reason for Hornacek to have received the award.

    I will say that I am a huge Suns fan but I would have made the same argument regardless of my favorite team.

    • Marco29 says:

      Even if I’m a big Spurs fan, I have to agree on this one. Hornacek did a hlluva of a job with the Suns as a rookie head coach and almost qualified them for th PO in the rugged Western Conf. If he continues like that, he will wiin the title soon.
      Pop is certainly a great caoch, among the all-time best but Hornaech did the best job this year. It’s like for the MVP, LBJ is among the best players of all-time but KD should win it.
      There are a lot of odd things about those awards: Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach won only one apiece while Don Nelson who has barely a winning record in his career won 3. Some for MVP: one for Kobe and 2 for Nash?

  5. Unkle Daddy says:

    Pop, best coach ever, period. Sorry to hear Adelman is hanging it up, always enjoyed his teams.

  6. Jordan says:

    Sorry Bulls fans but your guy was 200 pts back…. that’s not even close. You guys do realize that if you were in the West you would not be in the playoffs, but lower than the suns (who without the Bledsoe injury make it easily which lost Jeff the award) but anyways, yes, thibs did a great job but he was and rightfully placed was the third best coach this season. 3rd out of 30 is great, but you can’t say he got robbed with less wins then they had last season while the suns improved by 27 games and a roster full of young unproven players.

  7. werewood says:

    Hands down, he is a master of his art, a good good person according to what his men are saying, and a celebrity of his own in front of the media (hilarious if you ask me, just see the video above).
    PJAX is an ago zen master, and knew how to handle the top talent of the NBA in the past few decades. Pop is just the best coach hands down.
    Its a matter of perspective who/what is better … a preference issue … like if you play a priest or a magician in your online games. A matter of perspective what is better/stronger. I tend to go with the priest so Pop is my pick.

  8. Mr. Miller says:

    Pop has 3 potential hall of famer’s on his team, hes a great coach but i would definitely give it to Hornacek. He took a team of nobodies and a team predicted to win 19 games this season and won 48 in the hard western conf. What the Heck NBA!! Greatest story in basketball this season, Phoenix SUNS!!

  9. Raymond says:

    For me it is Phil Jackson the greatest coach of all times all the team he handled was became champion.

  10. marlon green says:

    Ok what is the deal with some of you people thinking Tom Thibodueau should have won the award? So what if he still managed to get the bulls to the playoffs again. It’s the same thing he did last year. But with the Bulls being in the eastern conference that isn’t a tough task. How are you even going to consider him being the winner and his team doesn’t even have the best record in their conference? Pop deserves this award hands down.The stars on this team are past their prime and he makes average or role players productive. His team has a system and he is in complete control and they dont have any off the court issues and he makes sure his players are diciplined. And yes he did cost the Spurs a championship last year by making that bone head call in game 6 but I’m sure he is reminded every day when he takes the court and coaches or watches t.v. You cant discredit him for a mistake he made last year.

  11. VJ says:

    I agree with Carlisle, hands down Popovich is the greatest coach in NBA history and likely in pro sports history. Phil Jackson doesnt even come close.

  12. celentano says:

    Yep i’m still wondering if SA reaches the Western finals this year,still a long road! Pop can have 100 awards on his list,if he makes the same stupid decision like game 7 against the heat last year(resting Tim on very important last minutes),than he better put his trophy’s in his … .lol!

    • Marco29 says:

      It was Game 6, not game 7.
      Aside from OKC, I don’t see another team able to stop them in the West and it is not sure that OKC makes it to the western finals.

  13. noyb says:

    Hard to believe Pop has 3 with four rings and PJAX only 1 with 11 rings. Both had great & less talented players on their teams. Thankfully Titles mean more than awards. Titles are EARNED.

    • Game Time says:

      Both had less talented? Sorry but please look at the squads Phil Jackson has coached towards championships and then compare to the ones Pop has. Hands down ten times over Pop has done the better coaching job with less.

      As a coach titles mean more than awards? You must be a Laker fan.

    • Jeremy Tijerina-Trejo says:

      Are you really going to say Jackson had less talent than pop, i.e. Jordan and Bryant know for there talent on the floor. But still titles do mean more, but pop has put up winning season ever since he got Tim. And Jackson had some down years.

    • Emmanuel says:

      It’s based on season performance; not playoffs.

  14. rafael says:

    thanks pop I been fan of san antonio since 1998 and this is my only team forever love san antonio team

  15. Bob Hill says:

    Fire Pop

  16. Lucas says:

    Well deserved Pop. Congratulations.

  17. brusier brody says:

    Shouldve, couldve, wouldve……….

  18. Big Al says:

    Pop is the best coach today no doubt, even if he can be a jerk to those interviewing him. Everyone in the team is given a responsibility. Patty Mills has finally shone. Marco Belinelli has turned from an ordinary two-guard in New Orleans to an important role player. With others picking up the slack, former superstars in Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have the luxury of resting in a handful of games, something LeBron and Durant don’t currently enjoy.

    Put Gregg in charge of the current Lakers lineup, and consider the playoff bid done even without Kobe. A great coach knows how to maximize whatever squad is given to him. There’s no way the Spurs could have threatened the Heat the way they did in last year’s finals without that man.

    • Jon says:

      You can’t give Pop all the credit for Belinelli.
      Last season (in chicago) he had a great season. Played defence, hit several game winners, ran the offense at times. I’d say a lot of bulls fans were sad to see him go.

  19. Chicago Bulls Fan says:

    For all the adversity that the BULLS had faced adn yet get to where they are right now, Tom Thibodeau should have won this award. Pop is an amazing coach no doubt, but i thought that thibs deserved this award more than anyone this year.

    • MarkOlsen says:

      Dear Chicago Bulls Fan,

      Nope, don’t agree. Tom was in this position because he didn’t take proper care of Derrick Rose. Seriously damaging a star player’s career due to over-playing is not worthy of an award. Will Rose every play a full season again? Secondly, Tom currently coaches in the LEASTERN conference, with at least 2 teams (Philly and Milwaukee) that should be relegated to the D-League. I seriously doubt that Chicago would even be a playoff team in the Western Conference. Third, Coach Pop currently has a team with NOT ONE legit All-Star (Parker was there on reputation only). Parker and Duncan will be LUCKY to be All NBA 3rd Team, if that. Tom has Noah, the Defensive Player of the Year in his prime, and Gibson who will probably beat Manu Ginobli for 6th Man of the Year. No player on the Spurs averaged 30 minutes per game, and Coach Pop won 62 games in the Western Conference. Coach of the Year is NOT for “Best Rookie Coach” (Hornacek, Clifford), or “Coach that did suprisingly well despite injury” (Thibs), or “Coach that did well when a decent GM finally cleand up his roster” (Casey). It is for the best coach in a given year. This year, that is Coach Pop.

      Best Regards,

      San Antonio Spurs Fan

      • Dear Mark, Is it too much to ask a star player to play half the game? Derrick Rose got injured on a freak play where he planted his foot awkwardly. That’s not from oveprlaying. That’s just life.

    • King Locario says:

      Yes they Thib did well, but look at the eastern confernce. If the east had to be in the west only indian and miami would be in the playoffs. The #9 seed had a better record then most of the eastern conference. IF the east was just as competitive as the west, Then Maybe

  20. Mleh says:

    well-deserved

  21. Ron says:

    We Spurs fans have been blessed to have this man at the helm for the last twenty years. No, he’s not perfect, but the idiots who think SA could do better are in for a rude surprise when Pop steps down in a year or two.

    • artifex says:

      Even as a Mavs fan I have to agree.
      It speaks so much for that organization that they are the most stable franchise of all.
      It’s not only Popovich with his 18 seasons.
      You have to add Duncan with all his 17 years, Parker in all his 13 years, Ginobili with all 15 years, Matt Bonner in 8 of his 10 seasons, Bruce Bowen 9 of 13 years in NBA,
      Before it had been Robinson all 15 years, AJohnson 9 years, Elliot 11 years in the 90s/00s.
      And I have a feeling that Splitter/Leonard/Mills could become the next trio…

      If you look for the franchise with the most players who played their entire career there they are definitively among the top. Among top players (say, with 10+ years who were All Stars) Spurs have 3 at the moment. I can only think of 3 others: Kobe, Dirk, Wade (Aldridge has 8, Noah, Holfort and Durant have 7). That says it all!!

    • GREGORY INGRAM says:

      I been a Spurs fan longing than you have been living, no he’s not perfect no one is perfect in anything that they do I disagree with him winning the Award a year after he blew game 6 with terrible decison making in that game, yes he will be a HOF coach but he lost game 6 on elementary play calling, that game still hurts me today and even if they win the Finals there will always be a missing tooth in the spurs smile thanks to him and Gionobli.

      v/s

      Greg

  22. IKE (Bulls Fan) says:

    Tom Thib should have won it.

    • pKone says:

      Thibs did a great job, but I have no problem with Pop beating him out. frankly all 5 coaches in the top 5 could have justifiably been handed the hardware.

      Thibs would probably have the same reaction to it as Pop: whatever, I have a team to coach tonight….

      ;)

    • Lucas says:

      Valid, but the west was extra brutal this year and somehow they came out on top despite all their injuries. Plus a 19 game win streak doesn’t hurt while sitting their best player for a few games.

      • Mr. Miller says:

        The Heat had an even bigger winning streak last season and had injury issues as well, Spolstra still didn’t get coach of the year. These votings are a joke.