When traversing through the corridors of the NBA’s storied past, a few names in coaching are sure to jump out. Red Auerbach. Pat Riley. The Zen Master, Phil Jackson. And of course, the famed media darling himself, Gregg Popovich. Now, while time has taken the first three out to pasture, Pop still finds himself in the ring trading punches.
But at what point is enough really enough? When will the San Antonio Spurs be forced to deal with life through the eyes of a new head coach? The questions in San Antonio are looming like a shadow on a cloudless day. And perhaps none greater than the simplest. Has the time come for Gregg Popovich to call it quits?
The Time Has Come for Gregg Popovich to Retire
The Big Three is Gone
Geoffrey Chaucer said it best: “All good things must come to end.” And with Pop and the Spurs of old, it wasn’t just good; it was great. For over two decades, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker instilled fear in the hearts of their Western Conference opponents. Sure they weren’t the overpowering brutes you’d expect to be the faces of a dynasty, but their machine-like consistency is what made them so special.
The dynamic trio rattled off four NBA titles between 2003 and 2014, and Duncan and the coach even sprinkled in a fifth ahead of schedule back in ’99. Now, this was before super-teams became all the rage. Back when franchises drafted players who had the intention of staying put for the long haul. And Popovich constructed the mold of what every other organization would strive for.
But nothing lasts forever. Duncan, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, retired back in 2016. Ginobili and Parker are expected to follow suit shortly. And although the Spurs have done all they can to acquire high-profile talent, the magic just isn’t there anymore. Competing with the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets has appeared to be an impossible task in recent years. It’s a task that Pop may not have the capacity to overcome.
Dissension Among the Ranks
The NBA has changed dramatically since Pop first came on board as a Spurs assistant coach in 1988. In today’s day and age, thanks in large part to social media, players are far more likely to share their personal feelings with the media and press. The age of tackling issues behind closed doors, man-to-man, have come and gone, and as a result, the lives of coaches have become increasingly difficult. Perhaps no one has fallen victim more to this in recent memory than Pop himself.
Kawhi Leonard began the snowball effect this season as tensions between him and the team continued to arise regarding his injury status. The Spurs brass and Leonard’s camp have repeatedly sparred over how the veteran has handled the recovery/management of a quadriceps injury he sustained dating as far back as 2016. And while Pop has done his best to support the homegrown star, he at times took subtle jabs at Leonard in an effort to appease his frustrations.
The more recent saga that has come to light is that of LaMarcus Aldridge. The nine-year vet was recently rumored to have sought a trade back to the Portland Trail Blazers this past season. According to reports, the issues between Aldridge and the team resulted in the All-Star calling Damian Lillard and asking him to speak with Portland general manager Neil Olshey about a potential trade. Pop even acknowledged this rumor back in January, stating that the two had worked out the kinks. But for this report to come out now, just ahead of the off-season, is particularly troubling on all accounts.
Aging and Loss
The final reason Popovich should hang it up is the most upsetting to boot. Tragically, only a few short weeks ago, the coach lost his wife of over forty years, Erin Popovich. While Gregg often times comes off as a stern grinch, his reputation throughout the league would be known in no such way. The news of Erin’s death sent shock waves throughout the league because so many had come to know her through the legendary coach.
If there is one thing you can say about Gregg Popovich, it’s that his legacy is about far more than just basketball. The legend has often times mocked how serious everyone takes the game in comparison to more pressing global matters. For all the accolades he has received, anyone can tell you that he’d much prefer his accomplishments off the court to those on it. Being known as a loving father and husband would be his greatest victory.
But getting back to basketball, age is undefeated. Whether you are a 20-year veteran player or a grizzled old coach, at some point, your time is up. Pop, who will turn 70 in January, has to be coming close to that realization. With up-and-comers on his staff, like Becky Hammon and Ime Udoka, no one would fault him for leaving the game. While it will never be in better hands, Pop would be safe to exit stage left.
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