Posts Tagged ‘R.C. Buford’

Blogtable: Your pick for who will be Brooklyn Nets’ next coach, GM?

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.

BLOGTABLE: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?

VIDEOThe Starters have some pointers for the Nets moving forward

> Give me a good one-two combo – a GM and a coach – who can turn things around in Brooklyn if given the chance.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’d love to see Troy Weaver (the assistant GM in Oklahoma City) get a shot at running his own shop. He’s smart and talented and knows everyone in basketball, and knows who can play. And if he got the job, you’d obviously think he’d look hard at bringing Scott Brooks in to coach. If he went another way, though, and went outside the list of the usual suspects (Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, etc.), someone like David Fizdale, the associate head coach in Miami, could do the job. Or, how about one Patrick Aloysius Ewing, once a basketball player of some accomplishment, but who is now an assistant coach in Charlotte — and an incredibly patient one — who’s been an NBA assistant for more than a decade. He should have been given shot to be a coach, about, oh six or seven years ago. I have no idea if Ewing would be a good coach or not. I had no idea if Erik Spoelstra could do it when Pat Riley gave him a chance to do it. And that’s what Ewing deserves–a chance, to succeed or fail on his talents and efforts. But none of those names/combos will work if owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t give them the time to build the Nets from the bottom up. And, make no mistake — they’re at the bottom.

Steve Aschburner, My preferred package deal for this sort of intervention is Jeff Van Gundy as GM/POBO and buddy Tom Thibodeau as head coach. I doubt either would be interested in Brooklyn’s toxic combination of flawed roster, hobbled draft future and impetuous, now-more-inclined-to-tinker ownership. But they have the basketball chops, the street cred and the know-how to stage an impressive turnaround. And if it’s not in Brooklyn, maybe it ought to be in Minnesota, where both jobs are up for grabs this summer. My Plan B would be someone such as Jeff Weltman, currently working with Masai Ujiri in Toronto, getting hired and bringing in, say, Monty Williams (who should still be a coach in this league) or Luke Walton.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy first thought was Jesus of Nazareth and his Father due to the near miracle it’s going to take to dig out of that hole dug by Billy King. But of this earthly realm, I’ll go with the no-nonsense pairing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and Jeff Van Gundy as G.M. Oooh, but they’d need time. Lots of it. And frankly, I don’t think either would want the job.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere is a lot of heaving lifting ahead, with few trade assets and no 2016 lottery pick, so lets start with the clarification that “turn things around in Brooklyn” will be a wide, slow bend. The 76ers just beat the Nets to my choice, Jerry Colangelo, who would not have had a lot of years left with the necessary energy but could have provided the smart statesman the Nets desperately need. I would love to see John Calipari get the job as coach/GM. Not because it would be a good choice, but just imagine Cal in full power play in New York. I feel better about the coaching decision: Ettore Messina, with a long look at Tom Thibodeau as well.

Shaun Powell, Jeff Van Gundy and whomever he hand-picks to be his personnel guy. Van Gundy has been away from coaching long enough to miss it, and now that his daughter is in college, he’s free to chase the dollars, and there will be plenty of that in Brooklyn. Plus, Van Gundy has experience in dealing with New York, where he’s respected. Give him the same power that his brother has in Detroit, and it could happen.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere are more viable coaching candidates than GM candidates out there and success starts at the top, so I would open the vault for R.C. Buford and give him (and not Dmitry Razumov) final say on all basketball decisions, including the choice of who to coach this team. Scott Brooks, Mike D’Antoni and Tom Thibodeau are all fine picks in that regard. The one that can work best with my new GM should be the new coach.

Sekou Smith, I’m a firm believer in new blood when you’re dealing with the situation the Nets are facing right now. No retread general managers or coaches. Scott Perry (assistant GM in Orlando) has paid his dues after holding the same position in Detroit during their glory days under Joe Dumars, and doing a similar job in Oklahoma City before landing in Orlando. Perry has earned the right to sit in the first chair. He’s as well respected as any executive I can think of around the league, both by his peers, players, agents and anyone who moves and shakes in the world of basketball. He also has no ego, which I think is a prerequisite for the job today. As for the coach, who better than Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue. He’s learned from some of the very best (Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers) and has been an invaluable asset for David Blatt as he transitioned from coaching internationally to the NBA. His years as an apprentice are over. He’s ready. And the Nets could use the infusion of new energy both would bring to their organization.

Ian Thomsen, They should hire John Calipari for both roles. I have done a full 180 on this in recent years. It’s obvious now that his real strength is as a recruiter. He can bring recruiting in the NBA to an unprecedented level of sophistication. NBA teams tend to be amateurish when it comes to recruiting. Calipari understands that it is a science, and coaching in a market as big as Brooklyn will enable him to make the most of free agency. But it is only going to work if a team gives him total control – without the ability to reinvent the front office and change the entire point of view, Calipari will have little impact. Free agency is going to grow more important as NBA contracts are shortened and the cap is hardened. Someday someone is going to look like a genius for hiring Calipari.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog Here’s the thing: You could bring in Red Auerbach as GM and Phil Jackson as coach, and a Brooklyn rebuild isn’t happening overnight. The Nets are really in dire straits, and there is no quick fix for this. So you need a GM who is patient and shrewd, with a track record for success. Thinking broadly and creatively, why not throw a lot of money at Jerry West, a former executive of the year now consulting with the champion Warriors? As for a coach, why not try a system that could be transformative, so how about getting Mike D’Antoni out of Philadelphia and let him turn his 7 seconds or less system loose to his heart’s content?

Aldridge move just another master class by ever-evolving Spurs

VIDEO: David Aldridge on why LaMarcus Aldridge picked Spurs

This was hardly a roman candle that came out of nowhere on the Fourth of July.  It was a carefully managed, brilliantly-executed plan.

Think of all the things the Spurs have been able to accomplish over the past two decades:

— 18 straight trips to the playoffs.

— 16 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins.

— 5 NBA championships.

Now this might be the slickest trick of them all.

LaMarcus Aldridge jumps from the Trail Blazers to the Spurs.

While so-called glamour franchises in New York and Los Angeles  keep floundering in their bids to reclaim relevance, little ol’ San Antonio finds a way to keep barreling down the tracks like a locomotive toward championship No. 6.  And maybe 7 and 8.

Just more than 12 months after their last celebratory river parade with an aging roster, the Spurs have made the transition to the next stage of the franchise with a move that was both brash and bold, but also a long time coming.

For even as general manager R.C. Buford and his staff kept juggling a roster built around the aging core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to annually compete for championships, they were always looking ahead to this day when the future merged with the present.

“My complete faith and trust in R.C. is never going to change, because of the track record he has,” head coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s always thinking not just for the next year and the next two years, but the next three years, the next seven years, that type of thing.”

By making all of the necessary moves — trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta for a handful of beans, letting Aron Baynes go to Detroit, Marco Belinelli to Sacramento — Buford has set up the Spurs not only for next season but perhaps the next decade.

For so many years, the Spurs and their fans have proudly worn the label of a franchise that builds championships rather than buys them.  They were the ones that defiantly took down — and ultimately broke up — the Monied Mercenary Miami Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But the game of pro basketball is a business and the business is about making the most proficient, often the shrewdest, moves to stay on top of the competition.

Of course, the Spurs will be right back among the teams at the head of the Western Conference class in 2015-16 with a front line of Duncan, Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.  With this nifty Texas two-step, the Spurs, who lost in the first round of this year’s playoffs, are suddenly 2-1 oddsmakers favorites to win the West, ahead of champion Golden State and Oklahoma City, and 4-1 to win it all, behind only LeBron and Cleveland.

Let’s not forget that with literally billions of dollars being thrown around in the free agent market in less than a week, Buford locked up Aldridge for four years (player option after third) at $80 million.  It’s a number that will look positively pedestrian net summer when the salaries shoot through the clouds with the influx of new TV money.  It almost looks that way now when you consider that Orlando will pay Tobias Harris $64 million over the same time frame.  Go ahead, compare Aldridge and Harris.

But just as important, with Aldridge at 29 and Duncan at 39, the Spurs will be in the thick of the contending pack for the foreseeable future.  That had to be the decision-making difference for Aldridge after he heard pitches from Portland, L.A. Phoenix, Houston and Miami.  Whenever the ageless Duncan finally decides to hang up his spurs, Aldridge has a 24-year-old running mate in Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, to keep churning ahead with perennial chances to add to the banner collection.

Don’t think that’s a tough trick to pull off without hitting bottom and suffering the bruises and indignity of suddenly finding out how life feels in the draft lottery?  Just ask the Lakers and Knicks.

As carefully and strategically as Popovich has managed the minutes of his veterans over the years to keep them fresh, Buford maneuvered and managed the salary cap with the flexibility of tiny gymnast to make this day possible.  It was never just a year-to-year reach for one more playoff run, but a decade-long plan to transition to the future.  All the while the Spurs were stacking up Larry O’Brien Trophys, they were keeping an eye on this critical summer when 10 contracts were timed to come off the books at the same time.

“We put the team together with that in mind,” Popovich said.

Sometimes the best-laid plans work out perfectly.

Blogtable: Memories of Popovich …

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.

BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?

VIDEO: The Spurs’ superstars reflect on what coach Gregg Popovich has meant to them

> 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.comI’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, 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.comNone 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.comWell, 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, 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, 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, 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,’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.

Blogtable: NBA Person of the Year?

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.

BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?

VIDEORelive the best on-and off-court moments from 2014

> Time magazine editors choose a Person of the Year based on who they think most influenced the news — for better or worse — during that calendar year. Going by that criteria, who should be the NBA’s Person of the Year for 2014?

Steve Aschburner, We’re not as desperate as mainstream media to stay relevant, so I won’t suggest a “shock” pick – no Donald Sterling, thank you. And while new commissioner Adam Silver had a great “rookie” year, from his handling of the Clippers owner’s mess to his negotiation of the new TV rights mega-deal, I prefer my NBA Person of the Year to not be a “suit.” So I’m going with LeBron James. Maybe not the most creative pick, but his final days with Miami, his refreshing decision to return to Cleveland and the ongoing angst over the Cavaliers’ spotty start – despite all the talk of learning curves and (ahem) patience – have dominated the league’s storylines.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGregg Popovich. He’s been at the top of the game for quite a while, but 2014 was the year when the entire world finally got validation that Popovich is more than just a grumpy face. He channeled the anger and disappointment from the 2013 Finals loss into a fire that drove the Spurs to redemption. He did it with a masterful use of his roster, conserving veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and at the same time forged a deep bench that would be critical in the playoffs. By the time he got the Spurs back to The Finals last June, Popovich practically had them playing to a musical score in an artistic display of basketball. In winning titles 15 years apart with only one common player — Duncan — Popovich chiseled himself a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPersons — plural — of the Year. The San Antonio Spurs. I was going to go with Tim Duncan or Gregg Popovich or the Popovich/R.C. Buford combo vote, and then decided it was impossible and unnecessary to split them apart when the group win be so Spur-ish anyway. Did they influence the news the most? No. By that criteria alone, the one-man news cycle, LeBron James, is the winner. But San Antonio influenced the league the league the most. Another title, another calendar year of setting the standard for play and work off the court, another 12 months, into the start of the new season and the final weeks of 2014, of Duncan reaching new heights of impressive when it didn’t seem possible. I can’t wait to ride down the river after presenting the award.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comAdam Silver took over the commissioner’s job and found a live grenade on his desk in about 15 minutes. The way he handled the Donald Sterling situation — swiftly yet not recklessly, and definitely forcefully — gave him a higher profile and approval rating than his more famous NFL counterpart (Roger Goodell). For this particular designation, Silver has lapped the field.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGregg Popovich. The Spurs were the story of the 2013-14 season, recovering from the ultimate heartbreak in the 2013 Finals, getting back there through a deep Western Conference, and then, eviscerating the two-time defending champs with five games of the best basketball we’ve ever seen. San Antonio’s sustained success over the course of 17 seasons, on both ends of the floor and from the top of their roster to the bottom, has a lot of the league trying to imitate them. Several teams were talking “more ball movement” in training camps and we’re seeing the Spurs’ maintenance program for their vets make its way around the league as well. Tim Duncan is the best player of his generation and there are a lot of reasons why the Spurs are what they are, but Popovich has his hand in everything and is the face of the franchise

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNBA Commissioner Adam Silver is the runaway winner. He wasted no time ridding the league of the Donald Sterling disaster and has shown an ability to lead in ways that his predecessor and current peers in the other major professional sports wish they could under extreme circumstances. We all wondered how things would be different during the Silver administration … and we found out immediately. Doc Rivers, for his leadership of the Los Angeles Clippers throughout the Sterling affair, and LeBron James, who kept us all guessing during the summer before shaking up the league once again by going home to Cleveland (close enough to Akron to qualify as home), round out the top three on my ballot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt has to be LeBron ahead of Adam Silver, because this league – more than the NFL or the MLB – is about the players. LeBron was “person of the year” in 2010, and the decision he made back then was bookended by his return to Cleveland last summer.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: To me there are two obvious options, both involved in the same story but from different sides. Donald Sterling was probably the biggest NBA news story of 2014, after his now-infamous racist comments went public and stirred up controversy at the worst possible time for his basketball team. (Well, his former team.) But to me the NBA Person of the Year should be the guy who stepped up and took on Sterling, NBA commissioner Adam Silver. That press conference where Silver announced Sterling’s ban occurred just weeks into Silver’s new gig as commissioner. There were more eyeballs on him than he probably thought imaginable, and Silver handled the moment with aplomb. And actually, even with 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to find any part of the Silver/Clippers saga that Silver didn’t tackle about as well as it could have been tackled. Factor in Silver inking bank-busting media rights deals this fall, and even though he’s only been on the job since February, Adam Silver has had quite a 2014.

Messina adds taste of Italy to Spurs


Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”

Fact is, Messina had been around the Spurs once before. When he abruptly quit as coach of Real Madrid just before the Euroleague playoffs in the spring of 2011, Messina accepted an invitation from the Spurs to come to San Antonio and travel with the team.

After his season in L.A., a return to coach CSKA Moscow, this is more of a commitment as a full member of the coaching staff as the Spurs look for new ways to keep moving ahead in defense of their 2014 NBA championship.

It is a reunion with Manu Ginobili, 13 years after the Argentine star was the Euroleague Finals MVP for Messina’s champion team at Kinder Bologna. It was also a time when Messina first was exposed to a young teen-age prospect named Marco Belinelli.

“It is obviously special to have a chance to come to the NBA after these years and be part of a team with Manu and Marco,” Messina said. “But I know so many of the different Spurs player from their time in Europe. In a way, it is like I am coming home.

“It is very, very special to work with Pop, with this club, not only because it happens to be the champion team, but also the team that for us Europeans is closest to our way of seeing things and doing things. To have this chance to return with Manu at the end of his career, it’s very special. At my age you don’t start thinking about building a career or anything. If something happens, it happens. It doesn’t matter. Now it is only about experiences.”

For Popovich and the Spurs, it is only the next step in their determination to leave no stone unturned anywhere on the planet in order to move ahead in their education in the game. They added Messina to the staff in the same summer that they broke another barrier when they welcomed Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in an American men’s professional league.

“That’s just Pop,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “He’s open and he’s always hungry and searching for new things to discover about the game and different ways to coach it.”

“It was an easier decision now because Ettore has been with us before,” Popovich said. “I gave him a seat on our team plane and he’s gone on road trips with us. He’s traveled with us before.

“We talk a lot, that sort of thing. He’s a class act, a lot classier and suave than I am. He’s a sharp dude and he knows what he’s doing. Having Ettore here is great for our program and fun for me. (He’s) somebody I can bounce things off and same generation kind of thing.”

Messina has watched from a distance as Popovich exercised his basketball world view and assembled his “Foreign Legion” lineup, using the style and many of the passing game principles that have been a staple of the international game.

“We had to play that style in Europe and South America because we don’t have the kind of size, strength and athleticism in the game that exists in the United States,” Messina said. “I am talking about a generalization, of course. We learned that if we were going to win against those kinds of players, we would have to use skills — passing, keeping the ball moving, shooting, so many of the fundamentals. Those are all the things that Pop teaches here with the Spurs. I must say, it was a joy as a coach to watch the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs. Now I am an assistant coach back at the first step, trying to learn everything.”

Messina says his first experience with the Spurs and now his daily training camp routine in San Antonio continues to dispel many myths that Europeans have about the NBA.

“The thought over there is that the Americans don’t work, that it is all about the individual, about just using physical talent,” he said. “Most people over there think that we worked harder. That is not true. There is a great deal of individual work here in the NBA by players trying to get better. There is concentration on player development by the teams. If you watched the USA team (last) month in the World Cup, you know that wasn’t just a group of All-Stars. That was a team. That’s what Pop has put in place here. Everyone talks here about the ‘European style’ that the Spurs play. You know what? We really spend a great deal of time watching film and studying the Spurs and Pop’s offense.”

With Popovich at 65 and Messina 10 years younger, it might not be so far-fetched to think this could be the progression of the reigning champs’ global evolution — the grooming of the first foreign-born head coach.

It is, after all, how the Spurs conquered the basketball world, one dribble, one country at a time.

Budenholzer deals with double-duty

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

CHICAGO – Long characterized as a “copycat” league for trends ranging from basketball strategies to hiring practices, the NBA has a new move that everybody’s getting in on: Coaches doing double-duty as general managers, presidents of basketball operations or other titles vested with personnel control.

The latest to take all that on is Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who had decision-making responsibility dropped in his lap last week in the fallout from the Hawks’ front-office mess. GM Danny Ferry, beleaguered after making racially charged comments about free agent Luol Deng, took an indefinite leave of absence, and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin appointed Budenholzer to be the team’s head of basketball operations for now.

His circumstances are unusual, but Budenholzer joins the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy and of course San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich in holding added clout beyond their work on the court.

Until Rivers beefed up his role last year when he moved from Boston to L.A., Popovich was more of an exception. Most teams in recent years preferred to separate the powers, believing that a coach focuses on tonight (win the game) while a front-office exec thinks about tomorrow, next season and several years after that.

So is this the start of a new trend? A pendulum swing?

“I don’t know, those pendulums seem like they’re always swinging,” Budenholzer said Thursday in Chicago, in town for the annual NBA coaches meetings. “There are a couple of people who have done that, and obviously Pop’s been doing that for a long time, with R.C. [Buford, Spurs GM to Popovich’s president title] doing a ton. Those two together have been just an amazing combination. So I don’t know.”

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

The long-established view that the jobs should be kept separate has led to some coaches, hungry for more input on their teams’ architecture, finding themselves on the sidewalk. The most recent example: Jason Kidd, whose power play in Brooklyn wound up with Kidd coaching in Milwaukee and coach Lionel Hollins slipping in beneath GM Billy King in the Nets’ flowchart.

“A lot of people question it,” Saunders said. “Agents especially — they don’t necessarily like someone having that much control over their clients. Because as a coach, you can basically dictate how much you’re going to pay a guy.” By growing or limiting a player’s role, that is.

Saunders added duties in the opposite direction from Budenholzer and Rivers — he was the Timberwolves’ basketball boss when he appointed himself as head coach for 2014-15, taking over for the retired Rick Adelman. But Saunders made his NBA bones on the sideline, coaching Minnesota, Detroit and Washington for 15-plus seasons.

“I believe, if you look at many of the successful football teams, they were built that way,” Saunders said Thursday. “Look at [Bill] Parcells. [Bill] Belichick, he’s got total control. Then in our sport, look at the success that Nellie [Don Nelson] had — he pretty much ran the whole thing [in Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State]. Then Pat Riley‘s situation, when he pretty much ran a lot of those things.”

Just as Popovich has “nurtured” Buford to work in concert on personnel matter, Saunders, Rivers and Van Gundy also have titular GMs or other execs to tackle salary caps, administer scouting and handle other chores that would pull them away from player development and game preparation.

“The best thing about it is,” Saunders said, “I believe in most organizations when you have a falling out, the tendency is there’s a relationship that is lost between the coach and the owner. Because maybe they don’t all have the same agenda from management to the coaching staff. Well, when somebody is your coach and your president or GM, he’s going to talk to the owner. So there’s never going to be a disconnect on what the message is.”

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks coach and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said the added power and work aren’t for everyone.

“In my case, I’m not looking to do that. I love my owner [Mark Cuban] and I love my GM [Donnie Nelson] — my GM and I go back 30 years as friends,” Carlisle said. “I want to concentrate on my craft. But I applaud these other guys for taking on the other responsibility.

“If you get a great coach like Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy and you have the opportunity to meld those two positions into one guy who is high-quality in so many areas, if you’re an owner, you should go for that. More than anything, it’s pointing to the vortex of the connection between the coach and GM. The fact that some owners are looking at this and saying, ‘These two jobs should be one and the same’ highlights the importance of coaching.”

No one, however, is saying it’s easy. The consensus is that a GM has less-grueling days and better job security than his head coach. Saunders adapted comfortably to that last season, his first in the role with Minnesota, though coaching competitiveness still coursed through his veins.

In Budenholzer’s case, it comes just one year into his head coaching tenure with the Hawks, with the true impact of the front-office mess (analyzed well here by our Sekou Smith) still to be felt. The longtime Spurs assistant has a lot coming at him, on the brink of training camp.

“There are extra things you have to do to prepare for camp and the season,” Budenholzer acknowledged. “But we’ve got a great group. So there’s more work but I think we can manage it. The team, for the most part, is in place. That’s the most important thing.”

Growing up in the NBA in the Spurs organization — Ferry logged valuable time there, too, under Popovich and Buford — helped prepare Budenholzer for this beefed-up role. “It’s something where I spent 19 years in that kind of a set-up,” he said. “To whatever degree I can be comfortable, I wouldn’t feel that now if I hadn’t spent all those years around that in San Antonio with Pop and R.C.”

Asked where he would turn with questions, he said: “Oh, Pop and R.C. have always been open to me. I’ve obviously learned a ton from them and I’ll continue to.”

And if rivalries of the NBA prevent his Spurs pals from helping too much?

“I’m sure if I cross the line unintentionally,” Budenholzer said, “they’d say, ‘You’re a big boy, you’re going to have to figure certain things out for yourself.’ “

Quiet Spurs make big noise with Hammon

VIDEO: Becky Hammon is introduced by the Spurs

Last week, when virtually nobody was looking, point guard Tony Parker signed a three-year contract extension.

That’s usually the way the Spurs do business.

But for a franchise that usually goes out of its way to avoid creating even a ripple in the pool, the Spurs have made loud splashes this summer. The first was hiring longtime European coach Ettore Messina as an assistant coach. That was just a warmup.

The addition of WNBA star Becky Hammon to the coaching staff is nothing less than a cannonball.

Hammon, who is retiring as a player at the end of this season, will become the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Lisa Boyer was a volunteer assistant coach for the Cavaliers under John Lucas during the 2001-02 season, but she did not sit on the bench during games or travel with the team.

Make no mistake. This is big, potentially a game-changer and another milestone for women in sports and as professionals in general. Hammon will have the same duties as the rest of the coaching staff; scouting, writing reports, game-planning and offering her opinions in coaching sessions.

“In some ways it is trailblazing,” Hammon said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “But so many other women have done so many great things. I’m just following in their path.”

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement from the team. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon is a 16-year WNBA veteran and was voted one of the 15 all-time best players in league history. Ironically, an ACL injury that forced her to sit out last season may have opened the door to coaching. While in San Antonio rehabilitating during the offseason, Hammon asked Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and Popovich if she could attend practices and sit in on meetings. A connection was quickly established and both sides were on the road toward making history, though with no intention of grabbing the spotlight.

“Coach Pop made it clear to me I was being hired because of my basketball IQ and my qualifications,” Hammon said. ” ‘It just so happens you’re a woman.’ ”

It is, of course, the Spurs’ way to push at the envelope, leap outside the box of conventional thinking. They won their fifth NBA title in June with a roster consisting of 10 international players that came from eight different countries. Messina has spent more than a quarter century as perhaps the top coach in Europe and was widely regarded for years as one who could make the jump across the Atlantic to thrive in the NBA. It took the Spurs to actually make it happen.

Still, it is a quantum leap to make Hammon a woman at the highest level of the men’s game.

“People have always asked me if a woman could play in the NBA,” Hammon said. “I tell them no, because there is a difference. The men are too big, too strong. But when it comes to coaching, game-planning and scheming, there’s no reason that a woman can’t do anything a man can do.”

So could a woman one day become a head coach in the NBA?

“I think anything is possible,” Hammon said.

Around the world with Spurs trophy


Among the stops the Larry O’Brien Trophy will be making this summer: Argentina, Australia, France and Italy. (NBAE via Getty Images)

How are you spending your summer vacation?

Sunny days at the beach? Lazy afternoons with a fishing pole in the water at a lake? Nerding out at the library?

Well, if you’re the Larry O’Brien Trophy, you’re all polished and shiny and ready with passport in hand to embark on a grand global tour, courtesy of the NBA champion Spurs.

The 2014 titlists have made plans for the championship trophy to visit and be on display in the hometowns of the Spurs as part of a worldwide celebration on a summer long grand excursion.

That’s no easy feat when you’re the team with the most international roster in the history of the game. So the trophy will visit the friends and families of players in 12 cities in six countries on four continents.

Beginning Thursday in Argentina, the trophy will also travel to Australia, Canada, Italy, France, as well as U.S. cities in New Hampshire, New York and California.

“This tour gives our organization an opportunity to celebrate our diverse roster and thank the NBA’s loyal fan support from around the globe,” said Spurs general manager R.C. Buford. “For the first time in Spurs history, our players will be able to bring  a unique part of the championship experience to their families, friends and fans.”

While in the possession of Spurs players, the Larry O’Brien Trophy will appear at various events, such as basketball camps, family gatherings, music festivals and charity events spanning four different continents.

Fans can follow the Larry O’Brien Trophy on its journey online at, as well as with the hashtag #SpursTrophyTour through the following Spurs social media channels: Twitter (@Spurs), Facebook ( and Instagram (OfficialSpurs).

No word on whether The Larry will find time to take its glittering talents on a side trip to South Beach.


A jab at Phil and Spurs uniqueness

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Peter Holt talks with GameTime after Spurs win title

SAN ANTONIO — Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.

The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…

“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”

Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”

Take that, Zen Master.

Jackson never seems to miss an opening to tweak the Spurs franchise and their loyal fans about winning the title in a lockout season shortened to 50 regular-season games and failing to collect rings in consecutive seasons. Funny, here they stand yet again, with Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich still commanding their posts, with another opportunity to snap up the final carrot out there.

How does Holt feel about their chances?

“Kawhi’s 22, Patty’s 25, Tony’s 32 and Tim and Manu are going to play until they die,” Holt said. “So I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Sounds like Holt believes Duncan, 38, has no plans to ride his latest trophy into the sunset. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard sits on the cusp of stardom and Patty Mills, a key role player, is a free agent but could be  back. Tony Parker has already announced that he won’t play for France in the FIBA World Cup later this month, which has to be music to Holt’s ears, and Manu Ginobili, who turns 37 in a month, played this postseason as if 27.

The credit for the Spurs’ sustained success cascades from Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to Popovich and his staff to the Big Three and the revolving role players over the years that surround them. Holt says his franchise is filled with “unique individuals.”

That uniqueness is found in the Big Three re-signing with the Spurs over the years for less than the market would bear elsewhere; in accepting Popovich’s adamancy to begin limiting their minutes seasons ago; to sacrificing roles and buying into wholesale changes in playing style and philosophy that ultimately has kept the Spurs a step ahead of the rest of the league.

“We’ve protected guys for many years minutes-wise,” Popovich said. “And I’ve said before I’ve often felt guilty because their lifetime stats are going to be worse than everybody else’s because of the way I’ve sat them over the years.”

Some players might balk, some might complain. Some might seek to find a way out. But that’s not the Spurs way.

But why?

“Because all three of us see the big picture; we want to win championships,” Parker said. “I think that’s the big key of our success here in San Antonio all those years is Timmy, Manu, myself, we never let our ego [get in the way], it was the team first and that’s the most important. I always trust Pop’s judgment. I trust the way he sees, you know, for our team the big picture to win at the end.

“So I don’t care about all that stuff, as long as we get the ring at the end, and so far he’s right.”

Spurs belong with all-time elites

VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)