LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Criticizing President Trump’s leadership is one many years of practice for Gregg Popovich. They’re almost waiting for the San Antonio Spurs coach to give an interview.
So it was quite a curveball when Popovich played on the N.B.A. Bubble, decided to imitate Trump instead.
“This is fake news,” said Popovich, insisting with false indignation that San Antonio’s 22 consecutive playoff games had not just been stopped.
“This is totally false news,” Popovich continued. “A lot of people have told me that the show hasn’t ended. I talk to people all the time. They call me. They tell me,” Pop, the show didn’t end. It was not like that. “I don’t know where you got this stuff from.”
The remarkable San Antonio streak collapsed on Thursday – before the team even spoke up and eventually lost 118-112 to Utah Jazz. Previous victories of the Memphis grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns had eliminated the Spurs from the postseason, leaving them one berth behind a new league record for consecutive playoff appearances. However, Popovich felt laid back enough after the post-season San Antonio season ended for the first time since 1996/97 to show a playful side that he only occasionally reveals in his often brief interactions with the news media.
More importantly, Popovich insisted that he wanted to continue coaching the Spurs next season, despite the team’s 32:39 finish and his status as the league’s oldest coach at 71.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Asked Popovich.
On the day of elimination at the N.B.A. Five-team bubble, it could be argued that no one, not even the Cinderella Suns, could claim the kind of optimistic exit that San Antonio surprisingly managed. Phoenix scored a flawless 8-0 in their seeding games, best in the bubble, but the Suns also suffered the agony of Portland’s 134-133 escape against the Nets in Thursday’s late game. The Trail Blazers win brought them to the playoffs of the Western Conference against Memphis on Saturday.
In contrast, the Spurs arrived in Florida on July 9 without the injured former all-star LaMarcus Aldridge, convinced there was no way they could turn their 22 consecutive postseason trips into 23. “No shot,” said Popovich.
Popovich thought so little about San Antonio’s chances that he responded to the loss of injuries to two other starters (Trey Lyles and Bryn Forbes) by handing Patty Mills, his trusted reserve guard, a notebook and Mills as an assistant coach for five of the The team made eight games here. The Spurs ended 5-2 before losing the meaningless game in Utah on Thursday.
In his frequent interviews with reporters over the past month, Popovich developed a consistent routine. He would make statements almost daily to push for social justice and highlight the suppression of voters to ensure the momentum continues for players and coaches determined to capitalize on the N.B.A’s high profile platform. Reboot to reinforce their messages systemic racism. He would also repeatedly say that the development of the young San Antonio players was his only interest on the field.
With San Antonio’s stint officially over, it sure sounded like all of the recent talks on the team about Popovich being revitalized by the advances made by younger players like Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson hadn’t was exaggerated.
“I’m more excited about it than anything you’re talking about,” said Popovich of his team’s progress in player development. He claimed that San Antonio’s 22 postseason in a row, beginning with Tim Duncan’s selection with the number 1 in the 1997 draft, does not “come to my mind”.
The Spurs and the Suns were due to fly home on Friday as they battled Portland for a place to play through to the end. Thursday was also the final taste of the bubble for Washington, Sacramento and New Orleans and their esteemed rookie Zion Williamson.
The Wizards got their first win against Boston on Thursday afternoon after a 7-0 start and landed at Dulles Airport at 7:30 p.m. thanks to such an early start. The Kings were the next to leave, followed by the Pelicans who qualified as the undisputed disappointment of the Bubble.
While Williamson watched in a mask as a spectator at court, New Orleans lost to Orlando at 9 p.m. Tip, was then forced to take a night flight home immediately after the game. The league rules required that the pelicans could no longer stay on the league campus for safety reasons after they were eliminated.
The N.B.A. invited 22 teams to Walt Disney World to restart the coronavirus-punctured season with a format. Critics insisted that Williamson and the Pelicans should kick Memphis out of the playoffs. Seven of the eight pelicans games have been selected for national television broadcasts. New Orleans went 2-6 and was essentially 21st.
As a result, a difficult off-season has come for pelican management. There is a widespread belief in N.B.A. Coaching circles that the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, has already decided he would like to replace Coach Alvin Gentry – assuming the property is ready to donate the estimated $ 5 million that Gentry will support next season still available to swallow. Williamson also seemed to acknowledge that playing at his stated weight of 285 pounds may have been a factor in the myriad injuries that limited him to 24 of New Orleans’ 72 Games as a rookie. After Thursday morning’s shootaround, he said his off-season focus will be on “getting my body where it needs to be”.
Popovich is, of course, licensed in San Antonio to train for as long as he wants and he has left the impression that he wants to stay. It’s unclear whether his scheduled appearance as the United States coach at the Tokyo Olympics will take place next summer after that summer’s games have been postponed, but it makes sense to keep the Spurs going on numerous fronts.
Further consolidating the Spurs’ post-Duncan roster would be a priority for Popovich before making his expected move to a Red Auerbach-style oversight role. Another trainer in the N.B.A. Likewise, Popovich gives maximum volume on his megaphone for social justice. In fact, some who know him well believe that he is more interested in overtaking his dear friend Don Nelson for the career record in regular season wins than he would ever let him. Nelson’s lead is 58 wins.
It is safest to say that Popovich has trained as well as long as modern coaches usually do, that he deserves to go out in a much more traditional setting – which means real fans and admirers are allowed to enter the building.
“It’s really an incredible run,” said Mark Cuban, whose Dallas Mavericks had a fierce regional rivalry with Popovich and the Spurs from almost the moment the Cuban bought his team in January 2000.
The Cuban expressed doubts that a future stripe-oriented franchise could match the 22 straight playoff appearances in San Antonio: “Amazing – there is no other way to describe this.”