Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was named NBA Coach of the Year on Tuesday, making him the third coach in league history to win the Red Auerbach Trophy three times.

Popovich has received the league's top coaching honor in two of the past three seasons and joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as a three-time winner.

"This award with Coach Auerbach here belongs to a lot of people," Popovich said. "I'm honored and very thankful.

"When you win an award, it gets down to the players. Players do the work, and players do the winning. They've been unbelievable for me, allowed me to coach them for a long time, and without their play, their diligence and their professionalism, I know this wouldn't happen."

In a career full of masterful coaching performances, Popovich may have delivered his best in season No. 18.

The Spurs entered the season thinking about the devastating loss to the Miami Heat in last summer's classic NBA Finals. Thought to be too old to challenge LeBron James and the mighty Heat, the Spurs took the defending champions to seven games but couldn't close it out for the franchise's fifth title.

They showed up to training camp still stinging from that defeat, and Popovich had to get to know a new-look coaching staff after losing longtime assistants Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer to head-coaching jobs in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

"The way we lost in the Finals wasn't an ordinary loss; it was pretty devastating," Popovich said. "We decided that we needed to just face that right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way. Don't blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that.

"The Miami Heat beat us and won the championship, and that's that and then you move on. In all of our lives, there are many things more important than winning or losing basketball games. That's the perspective we had to take, and our team showed great maturity and resilience in being able to do that and set it aside yet again. So I'm very proud of them for that."

Popovich led the Spurs to a league-best 62-20 record this season, which gives them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. And he did it while deftly navigating a season filled with nagging injuries to several key players. Tim Duncan was the only starter to play in at least 70 games. No Spur averaged 30 minutes per game, and Tony Parker led the team with a modest 16.7 points per game.

Despite all of that, the Spurs won at least 50 games for the 15th straight season and topped 60 for the fourth time in that span, an unprecedented run of sustained consistency in the modern era.

Popovich added free agent Marco Belinelli, juggled the lineup to keep veterans Duncan and Manu Ginobili fresh for the playoffs and used his role players often enough that they enter the postseason brimming with confidence.

The Spurs lead the Dallas Mavericks 1-0 in their best-of-seven series, with Game 2 on Wednesday night in San Antonio.

"He's a gentleman," Belinelli said. "Everybody knows that he's the best coach in the league. So to say that is not really important. But maybe some people, they don't know he's really a great guy, a great gentleman. He really helps guys, helps each other. He wants to help everybody. Great person."

Popovich garnered 59 first-place votes and 380 points in voting conducted by a panel of media members. Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek (37 first-place votes) finished second and Chicago's Tom Thibodeau (12) finished third in the voting, with Charlotte's Steve Clifford and Toronto's Dwane Casey rounding out the top five in a season so strong that Miami's Erik Spoelstra did not make the top 10.

His accomplishment becomes even more remarkable when considering the state of coaching in the NBA today. A record 12 coaches were replaced last summer, and three vacancies have already opened up since the regular season ended a week ago.

"I was the only one left," Popovich quipped. "It's a volatile job, and all of us know that. R.C. [Buford, the Spurs' GM] and I have been fortunate to have been here so long together with an owner who lets us do our job and shows patience, understanding of how this all works. And in that regard, we know how fortunate we've been. So I can't overstate that.

"In a business that's this crazy, people want quick, quick wins, satisfaction and don't quite understand how long it takes to put something together. We've been allowed to do that."

Buford sat at a table to one side of Popovich during the news conference, with Spurs owner Peter Holt on the other side. His coaching staff sat in a row behind him, and the coach acknowledged each of them by name.

"I think his steadfast attention to detail and facing the realities of last season's end and immediately getting it behind us was really important," Buford said. "And his approach with his staff was different because it was a different staff, but the energy and the leadership we've seen has been consistent throughout his time as a coach."

Several Spurs players attended the news conference, even though Tuesday was an off day for the team. Duncan was in the back behind the media wearing his practice gear and standing in bare feet.

Should the Spurs go on to win the title, Popovich would become the first to win coach of the year and the NBA championship in the same season twice, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Bill Sharman and Red Holzman did it once.

The occasion allowed Popovich to reflect on his path through the sport of basketball. He sarcastically said that Larry Brown "screwed" him as a player by choosing future Hall of Famer David Thompson over him when Popovich was trying to make the Nuggets' roster when Brown was coaching the team in the ABA.

He also said he never had any designs of becoming an NBA coach, let alone a three-time coach of the year, when he was coaching at tiny Pomona-Pitzer College from 1979 to 1987.

"The NBA was never a thought," Popovich said. "To me, the NBA was watching it on TV back when they had the long nets and watching the ball go through the long nets, I really enjoyed that. I was fat, dumb and happy as a Division III coach and would do it the rest of my life. It was fantastic. I loved it.

"But all of us take a different road here and there. The NBA was never a dream or thought of, 'I'm going to go to the NBA and be a coach and do this.' I had no clue."

He was asked how he planned to display his new trophy.

"They're on hood of my car. One, two, three right on the car," Popovich joked. "I've got three of those right on the hood."

Dave McMenamin of and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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