Like his aging star Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich is probably one of the most underrated talents the NBA has ever known.
In his 15 full seasons as coach of the Spurs, Pop has an 830-352 regular season record, which means he has won over 70 percent of his games during that stretch. He has 15 straight playoff appearances, four world championships and outside of Phil Jackson, he is the most decorated coach of his generation, which goes mostly unnoticed.
Pop has created a dynasty of winning in a small NBA market. You can point to Duncan, his legendary post player as one reason, but it would be foolish to end there. Players come and go, teams rise and fall, but the Spurs keep plugging in their classic under-the-radar fashion.
It is the art of winning. In a league built around superstars and individualism, Pop has found a way to keep adding to his win totals year after year with both new and old faces.
While my Sunday Musings post is typically Kings focused, this week will be a little different. We can call it an outline for where the Kings are and where they want to be, but when an NBA legend decides to open up and share some of his secrets to success, we all better listen.
Step one for transforming the Kings begins with continuity of both players and coaches. The merry-go-round needs to stop now.
“That corporate knowledge that builds year in and year out is really invaluable I think,” Popovich told a small group of reporters before Friday night’s game. “So they understand what the coach wants and the coach knows what he’s going to get every night. When players know what they’re going to get from each other, they feel responsible to each other.”
While keeping players together isn’t the easiest proposition in today’s NBA, it is imperative. The Kings have started to build some roster continuity, but most people will agree that a roster full of pieces that don’t mix well isn’t the right answer either, which brings us to Pop’s second point.
“We talk endlessly about players before we bring them in,” Popovich said of both the coaching staff and members of the front office. “Whether we draft them or (through) free agency or (through) trade, (we) make sure they are people who can accept roles, understand that they are just part of a whole and that they realize that it’s not just about them, but it’s about how they can make the group better.
“If you don’t have that, I think it’s really difficult to build a cohesive unit that cares about each other and cares about the right things,” he added.
So it’s about continuity and finding the right players who are willing to buy in hook line and sinker. That makes perfect sense, but are there really players out there willing to accept a role on a team if that means sacrificing some of their game?
“They’re out there,” Popovich insisted. “Everybody has this impression that pros are selfish and don’t want to be coached and don’t want to listen. I think the majority of good players want to be coached. They want to have guidelines and (know) what they’re roles are. They want to know about how things are going to be run.”
If this wasn’t Gregg Popovich speaking, I would think this person was crazy. Players who want to be coached? Players that are willing to take a back seat for the good of the team? That doesn’t exactly sound like the NBA and it certainly doesn’t sound like the Sacramento Kings. But it needs to be where the Kings are heading and Pop can see the improvement.
“Those guys are young and energetic,” Popovich said. “They’re talented. They’re buying in defensively, paying attention and focusing on that. The future looks good. Keith‘s (Smart) done a good job of getting them all on the same page.”
We have talked about this idea of team building and chemistry all off-season long, but when the ball tipped-off in game No. 1, the same individualism that’s plagued this team for the last half decade reared its ugly head once again.
Coach Smart is doing his best to get this group to buy in and like coach Popovich said, in some situations that appears to be working. But in other situations, it looks like five players on the floor fighting against each other.
So how do you get to the next level? How does Smart make this team into one pack, moving together, instead of having each player come to feed one at a time?
I don’t have a neat little quote from coach Popovich spelling this one out, but his actions on the floor have always told the answer.
Pop is the boss and he has been for almost 16 years.
Be it Duncan or veteran guard Tony Parker, if they make a mistake, they hear it and they hear it from the same voice that they’ve always heard it from. You don’t have to scream and yell for four quarters, but players need to know that there are consequences to their actions.
Every player was hand-selected to play a role in Popovich’s system. They are asked to buy in and play the role they are given and if they do not, regardless of the name on the back of their jersey, they go to the bench.
The Kings roster isn’t perfect, but more to the point, it is undisciplined. For the past few seasons, they haven’t had the talent to just sit someone when they aren’t following the plan. But talent shouldn’t matter. If you play the game the right way and you play it as a unit, talent is secondary.
If you don’t believe that, then look at what happened Friday night in Sacramento. With half their roster down with a stomach virus, the Spurs beat the Kings with an NBA nomad named Patty Mills and a 36-year old Duncan besting DeMarcus Cousins.
The Kings can talk about making the playoffs all they want, but they won’t get there as individuals. And if by some chance they do? The Spurs will be waiting there to beat them in the first round.