The NBA, as well as all professional sports, is a league fueled by contrition and managing talent in a manner where you “get the most for what you pay for”. Greg Popovich or Coach “Pop,” who was born in 1949 to a Serbian father and Croatian mother, has been exemplary in making the most out of the resources he’s been given. From draft picks to free agent signings, this “team” has made some pretty good choices over the last few years and a couple of decades now.
Kawhi Leonard was drafted 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers , and traded immediately, along with two other players in exchange for point guard George Hill of the Spurs. By 2013 with the Spurs, he was averaging 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game – – all while shooting 52% from the field. He recorded 26 points against the Grizzlies in the playoffs and 29 in a game 3 win in the finals against Lebron and the Heat. They won that series 4-1. After this display of development, Leonard was one of the most sought after players a year ago when his contract was up, it doesn’t look like it was such a raw deal for the Spurs.
There’s also a guy by the name of Danny Green who was drafted 55th overall by the Cavaliers in 2011, but waived soon thereafter due to his lack of performance. Green was subsequently picked up by the Spurs and sent to their D-league team in which he managed to average 20 points and 7 rebounds before having his number called by Coach Pop. By 2013, he had finished 9th overall in the “Most Improved Player in the League voting,” and was one three-pointer shy of breaking Chuck Person’s record for most three pointers in a game by a single Spur. Green finished that game against the Timberwolves with 28 points and was 5 out of 5 from the three point line.
Tony Parker, who is now a perennial all-star, was sent away by Coach Popovich prior to the 2001 draft due to his lack of toughness against former NBA player Lance Blanks in summer camp. Parker returned after improving his fortitude against larger players and the rest was history. The list goes on and on with Spurs players who improve under Pop’s system. These players may struggle with other teams, but this organization with their formidable coach at the helm, bring out any potential in the players they work with.
I can’t give ALL the credit to Popovich, but when I look at coaches like Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, I don’t see the same type of manufacturing when it comes to talent. I can’t take anything away from them because they’re great coaches with multiple championships. But from day one, with players like Michael Jordan, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Scottie Pippen I could probably win a couple with those guys on my team. Those coaches had players who were going to win championships at some point, even without good coaching. They were that great.
Therefore my G.O.A.T award for best basketball coach at the professional level goes to POP. I know many will disagree with the Zen Master leaving so many years on the table where he could’ve done more, but if he were as great as Popovich, he would’ve kept coaching without superstars the way my pick for the G.O.A.T has done. I’m not a Spurs fan AT ALL, but I bet they’re going to be right there challenging your favorite team in the playoff this year – – especially with recently acquired LaMarcus Aldridge at their disposal. No doubt. Go get ‘em. Pop.