Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> He has 1,000 victories, multiple Coach of the Year awards, five NBA Championships … what’s the one thing (listed or otherwise) that stands out most in your mind about Gregg Popovich’s NBA coaching career?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll count down my top three Popovich thoughts. At No. 3, his maneuver to land Tim Duncan largely has been forgotten,but it was a tank job before people even called it tanking; David Robinson was hurt, so Popovich gassed then-coach Bob Hill and took over the coaching reins to make sure the Spurs had a legit lottery shot at their all-time franchise guy. Second, few coaches intimidated me as much when I first started covering him – I felt his early attack mode was driven at least partly by his own discomfort in those media exchanges – but now that we know each other, I look forward to the conversations (not mere interviews) we can have. And my No. 1 thing is Popovich’s resiliency. He went from defensive grinder to offensive innovator in mid-career to adjust to his roster, and he somehow turned the ultimate defeat in 2013 into the inspiration for yet another title with a group whose window allegedly had slammed shut.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: His unwavering dedication to doing whatever is in the long-term best interest of his players. It has cultivated an atmosphere of belief, loyalty, respect and those five championships.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: None of the above. Nothing speaks to his greatness more than the accomplishments you listed, but I have ways been struck by the emotional more than the tangible. Pop’s ability to know which players need more maturing and which can handle his fury (Tony Parker) is a quality that brings out the best. He has developed younger players, plugged in veterans, completely changed his team’s style of play and hired great assistants because Gregg Popovich knows people as well as he knows an X or an O.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, it’s hard to ignore his championships or longevity, both of which will be written on his coaching tombstone once he retires. But the other thing that strikes me most is his ability to avoid the relationship issues that hurts so many coaches, even the successful ones. With few exceptions, maybe Stephen Jackson in his second stint with the Spurs, I can’t think of any player who ran afoul of Popovich. That’s hard to pull off for a guy who isn’t afraid to, um, express himself.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Popovich often tells his players, “Get over yourself” and he clearly listens to his own advice, because, though he’s won multiple championships, he’s always been open-minded and willing to adjust as the game and his team have evolved. As Tim Duncan got older Tony Parker got better, the Spurs went from relying more on post-ups to relying more on pick-and-rolls. They picked up things from offenses from Europe and from Mike D’Antoni to eventually evolve into the machine we saw in last year’s Finals. And in the summer of 2012, they took a step back and used analytics to figure out how to get back to being a top-five defensive team, which was the biggest reason they got back to The Finals and, on their second try, won a fifth championship. Popovich is an old-school coach in many ways, but he’s smart enough to know that he’ll never stop learning.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The thing that stands out most in my mind about Pop is that he has always found a way to get the best out of guys who someone else either never believed in or gave up on. Boris Diaw is one of the best examples. I watched Boris struggle with his first steps in the league when the Hawks could not figure out what to do with him (was he a point guard or not?). The Spurs have gotten the very best out of Boris, thanks to Pop’s no-nonsense/tough-love approach. He’s a master at the most important part of the coaching game, getting you to operate at your absolute best, no matter what.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He established the standards of teamwork while bridging the NBA toward its ultimate future as an international league. The day will come – many years from now, but it’s definitely on the way – when Americans will account for less than half of the league’s players. Popovich showed that NBA teams could win not in spite of the international players, but because of them.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: That he’s had exactly two head coaching jobs in his life. One at a Division III college, and then the one in the NBA where he’s won five titles and three Coach of the Year awards over two decades. Without naming names, there are coaches who bounce around and get opportunity after opportunity, and sure, sometimes it works and they finally find the right fit. But watching Pop’s success, and that of a guy like his longtime assistant Mike Budenholzer crushing it in his first head coaching gig, it makes me think that maybe there are times when it’s worth it to give the new guy a chance.