Gregg Popovich and the reinvention of a legendary coach

The coach is going to take the Spurs to the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season despite the many changes that the squad has undergone in recent years.


To talk about the NBA, you have to mention irretrievably Gregg Popovich. The coach of San Antonio Spurs is a living history of the American competition and one of the last redoubts of the 'old' basketball that remains, besides one of the few active myths that we find both on the benches and on the tracks of the best world league.

The Texans prevailed last night at Dallas Mavericks to add their sixth consecutive victory and it seems that, if there is not a big surprise in this last month, play the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive day. A heroism within reach of very few franchises and a record that establishes Pop as one of the best coaches of all time. The merit no longer only resides in the number of championships won (5), which also, but in the durability of the project and in the ability to keep his team competitive despite the changes that have taken place in basketball and its staff in recent times.

This last one is very important. Of the last ring won by the franchise in 2014, only two players remain in the template: Marco Bellinelli and Patty Mills. Two professionals who, although undoubtedly good, do not reach the level of losses of recent times: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. The epicenters that have sustained the franchise in recent years despite belonging to different generations.

The coach has already shown in the past that he can overcome the losses of big stars and important players in his team, reinvent himself and continue to make the group competitive . As he did when David Robinson left and did it again at a stage where other veterans were left (Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry), Duncan dropped the level and had to pull off young players and 'steal' the draft for keep afloat the franchise.

The reinvention

Not long ago, LeBron James, declared fan of the technician, made an interesting reflection. The forward said that Popovich could be considered the best coach in history because he had managed to dominate the NBA in three different stages: of the tall men, the pick and roll and triple. The reflection is curious and if we stop to think about it we can distinguish three major stages in the career of the five-time champion and we can see that he has indeed won in all of them.

The first great stage can be established since he acquired Tim Duncan in 1997 until 2003, when David Robinson retired. It was the time of the tall men, of the 'twin towers', to gather quintets of many centimeters on the court. The stage in which a transition between the old (Robinson) and the new (Duncan) would be allowed while building a competitive team with many players who enjoyed their last good years after a decade of the 90 dominated by Jordan.

These first years resulted in the ring of 1999, the first of an era in a strange year, and the one of 2003, which was agreed after carrying a progression that at that time was very natural in the West and that finally ended with the domain 'laker' of Shaq and Kobe and with the acquisition of young people like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who began to have prominence in the template.

The second stage ended with two other championships and was the pick and roll. With the retirement of Robinson, Duncan was established as the epicenter of the attack in a definitive manner but surrounding him with players like Ginobili and Parker who reached maturity. The first was a protagonist in the ring of 2005 against Detroit and the second in had Parker as MVP of the Finals in 2007. It could be the era of dominance and dynasty, but the defeats in the conference semifinals in 2004 (Fisher's miraculous shot in the sixth) and in 2006 (seventh game at home lost to Dallas) prevented him. Even so, it became clear that the coach gave a higher priority to long-term regularity than to immediacy.

This phase, which could end with the defeat in 2008 (Conference Finals against the Lakers) ended with a small crisis that It was extended until 2011. Thereafter, Duncan's small slump, which was no longer to be an MVP (although he continued to contribute), led to the entry of the minute restriction stage, collaborative basketball and a new transition that I would have Kawhi Leonard as a substitute in the role of franchise player, something that finally did not work out as expected.

With an admirable new progression (Conference Finals in 2012, NBA in 2013 and ring in 2014) a fair era was coming to an end when the triple began to emerge (in 2015 they already won whatWarriors). An era that Popovich would also adapt to.

Keeping the group competitive

Although the Spurs have not been candidates for the ring since, they have signed two seasons of more than 60 victories since 2014 and a Conference Final just after Duncan's departure, which did not make the team lower the level. The most complicated seemed to be in the current season: the departures of Leonard and Parker, coupled with the withdrawal of Ginóbili and the residual role of a Pau Gasol that is not even in the team, leaving the franchise in the heat.

With Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldrige, the coach, who was entering a nostalgic phase, has managed to maintain the level of the team. Both players are good, but they are not at the level (a priori) of the stars that Pop has had in the last two decades. Nor the rest of the staff. Derrick White, David Bertans or Jakob Poeltl are just some examples of the 'steals' that the technician has managed to invent to keep the Spurs in the playoffs.

The final phase is a hallmark of the franchise, which is not downloaded from the first season of Popovich on the benches. Last year he showed it with a great regular season finale, and after the losing streak away from home the whole of Texas has solved any doubt by getting six consecutive wins to settle in a playoffs that are practically resolved in the West. And all this by denying a triple that has always placed behind the basics of the classic basketball (it is the teams with the least triples in the league) and based on players with skills that other franchises' despise'.

The only thing missing to know is where the trip will end. From the directive they have already assured that Pop will continue "until he wants" , and the five times champion has to be in the US bench in this year's World Cup and in the next Olympic Games. Everything comes to an end, and although it is not yet announced, when arrives, it will leave behind an absolutely legendary legacy.



Photos from as.com

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