Ball Don't Lie
Gregg Popovich jokes about Phil Jackson's latest Spurs dig: 'Oooh, that makes me so mad!'
Its fair to say that San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is taking a victory leap of sorts around the NBA, and its more than earned.
Its not just that Popovichs Spurs routed the Miami Heat in last years NBA Finals; its the way coach Pop went about movements that led to the glow. His system encouraged top line players to take pay cuts. He fought the NBA and wisely sat players, mindful of the 100-some game slog that a championship season demands. His championship teams have ranged from low post killers to defensive-minded stunners to the absolutely gorgeous, international-style basketball that was last seasons winner. Even in a San Antonio defeat on Wednesday night, Brooklyn Nets forward Mirza Teletovic praised San Antonios European-styled system after the game for allowing him to see the floor more clearly on his way toward a season-high 26 points in a Brooklyn win.
He allowed the first internationally-raised basketball coach to serve as head coach of the Spurs earlier this season. He hired the more than qualified Becky Hammon to serve as the first full time female assistant coach in NBA history. Hell make champions out of players as disparate as Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw.
Most importantly, to many of his coaching colleagues? He still gets under Phil Jacksons skin.
Jackson referred to Popovichs strengths last spring when discussing his hopes for the New York Knicks, as he attempts to resurrect the long-moribund franchise. Because Phil Jackson is Phil Jackson, though, he had to offer a Phil Jackson-styled qualifier. From Newsday:
"Tim Duncan making the salary he's making after being part of a dynasty -- not a dynasty, I wouldn't call San Antonio a dynasty -- a force, a great force," Jackson said in April. "They haven't been able to win consecutive championships, but they've always been there."
With the Spurs in Brooklyn on Wednesday, local press had to ask Popovich if he had any reaction to Jacksons months-old comments.
"Oooh, that makes me so mad!" he said before the Spurs played the Nets Wednesday night.
But, Pop said it very sarcastically.
"Just write whatever you want and I'll say I said it," Popovich joked. "Make it good though so you can get a promotion. Juicy. Ugly. Really good."
The dynasty/not a dynasty argument is really daft honestly, who cares? Its true that the Spurs have yet to win two titles in a row, injuries and other very good basketball teams have gotten in the way of such, but five titles spread out over 15 years with one mainstay big man and a backcourt that was around for four of the five is about as amazing as pro basketball gets. For the Spurs to roar back from what should have been an enervating loss in the 2013 Finals to play at their absolute peak some 12 months later might be the most impressive thing Ive ever seen in lo, these many years of covering this league.
Phil Jackson certainly competes, on that level. Winning 54 games with Pete Myers as your shooting guard and Michael Jordan shagging flies ranks up there. As does sustaining three different three-peat winners in spite of fatigue, in-fighting, or championship-level competition on the opposing side of the floor. Call it a coin flip, if you want to be right about things.
To Popovichs credit, however, hes not the one who is engaging these pissing matches. Phil Jackson might not be technically engaging here either, he just cant help speaking candidly, he just cant help being Phil Jackson. Hes just kind of like that, thankfully, and thankfully Gregg Popovich similarly remains true to his thoughts as to what counts, and what doesnt.
Phil Jacksons Knicks, and by extension Phil Jacksons preferred triangle offense, has been rightfully called out on the carpet for their overreliance on long two-point shots. This is more the fault of the players than the offense again, the ideal result from a triangles unfolding is a shot near the rim but Jackson has added to the intrigue by criticizing three-point shots as an NBA staple over the summer.
One of the shots most vocal opponents, through the years, is former Knick and former Jackson teammate Bill Bradley. Bradley has long called for the abolition of the shot, purporting that it reduces ball movement and slows the game to a standstill.
That may have been true around the time of the release of Bradleys last basketball book, but in the modern era the same cant be said. Bradley signed off on as much when he got in touch with the coach of the three-point heavy San Antonio Spurs over the summer to credit him with making the NBA fun again.
From the New York Times:
But stuff happens. The Spurs revolution overthrowing King James was televised. Within days, Joe Torre had weighed in with a congratulatory note. Then Bill Bradley called to tell Popovich that Tim Duncan and friends had reminded him of his old Knicks teams and that they had renewed his love of the N.B.A. game.
You say to yourself, something special must have really happened, Popovich said before heading to Brooklyn for Wednesday nights game against the Nets at Barclays Center, where the Spurs eight-game winning streak was broken. I should know this. I was there; I should have noticed.
Of the call from Bradley, who is six years older than the 65-year-old Popovich, he said: I was speechless. He was a hero.
If Gregg Popovich can convince Bill Bradley that a shot from 23 feet away is optimal, then hes done his job here.
Now all Bradley needs to do is convince his ex-teammate that these Spurs are pretty damn dynastic.
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