Gregg Popovich is still coaching because he is still having fun

San Antonio Spurs v Detroit Pistons
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
0 Comments

ASSOCIATED PRESS — The final buzzer sounded at the Tokyo Olympics, the gold medal for the U.S. was won and Gregg Popovich held his emotions in check for at least a couple of minutes.

He shook hands with France coach Vincent Collet. He consoled some of the French players who had to settle for silver. His expression barely changed.

And then he walked across the court, to a small group of people in the first couple rows of the stands. That’s when the emotions began to flow, when he embraced a group that included Ime Udoka, Will Hardy, Chip Engelland and Jeff Van Gundy. The people who gave up their summer, quietly, to help him out.

“I’m still smiling,” Popovich said.

Relationships matter to Popovich more than the wins.

That is why he’s still coaching. And if Popovich knows how much longer he’ll coach, he’s not saying. But the final chapter of his coaching life is coming. He turns 73 in January. He’s in his 26th season on the San Antonio Spurs sideline. He has faced 158 different coaches in the NBA, or roughly half of anyone who has coached in the league’s 75 seasons.

His resume has no end. He is a five-time NBA champion, coach of an Olympic gold medalist and someone who will be a Basketball Hall of Famer after he retires — an honor he doesn’t want until after he is done coaching. And this season, the oldest coach in the league is leading one of the youngest rosters he’s ever had.

All that said, if anything, the gold medal didn’t leave Popovich thinking there was no stone left to turn. It seemed to reinvigorate him.

“We were proud, we wanted to do it for him and help him do it,” said Udoka, now in his first season coaching the Boston Celtics. “And so, to see the relief and get that monkey off his back, so to speak, it was a great time for all of us. So many hours spent behind the scenes, grinding away and trying to figure out how to make that team the best.”

Udoka is an example of how deep the ties run in Popovich’s very small circle of trust. When Udoka got hired by the Celtics, Popovich said he’d understand if Udoka left his role with the U.S. team to go focus on the new task in Boston.

Udoka had a staff to hire, summer league to oversee, roster decisions to help make. Popovich didn’t want to stand in the way of any of that. Udoka didn’t need long to recommit to the U.S. team.

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Udoka said.

Hardy could have found other things to do this summer. Engelland and Van Gundy, too. So could the likes of Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley, all of whom were part of the U.S. camp in Las Vegas and were in every meeting with Popovich before the team left for Japan.

They all chose to be part of Team USA, or perhaps more specifically, Team Pop.

“They did a great job in a very difficult situation,” said Charlotte coach James Borrego, another former Popovich assistant.

Popovich is a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, considered a career as a spy, tried out for — and by some accounts, should have made — the 1972 U.S. Olympic team, speaks out often on political issues. The games this summer mattered more than he let on.

“I don’t think Pop has ever felt the pressure that he felt to go get this done for our country,” Borrego said. “Wearing that USA across his chest, he felt a real responsibility to produce, win a gold and put out a good product.”

It’s no different now with the Spurs. He just wants a good product.

In a season already with some major problematic storylines — the Kyrie Irving saga in Brooklyn, Ben Simmons’ mess of a relationship with Philadelphia, Enes Kanter speaking out on political matters and adding to the complexity of the ties between the NBA and China — San Antonio is doing what it does: just playing the game while avoiding messy situations.

Nobody is picking them as a title contender this season, which is fine with Popovich. He doesn’t mind that in a league where superstars rule, the Spurs have no superstars. They’ll play fast this season and they’ll play simple. He says he’s going to enjoy coaching a team like that.

“Pop stays the course,” Borrego said.

He’s still enjoying what he does, still on the Olympic group text where he and everyone who helped him out this summer talk just about every day, someone without fail mentioning the gold medal. He loves coaching Josh Primo, the 18-year-old who was born almost a decade into Popovich’s coaching career. The game, to him, is still fun.

“It’s exciting as hell,” Popovich said.

In other words, just like in Tokyo, he’s still smiling — and still coaching.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
Getty Photo
0 Comments

The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

0 Comments

There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.