Nothin' but Net: Pop is semi-clear Olympic choice
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With Mike Krzyzewski definitely out as the head coach of USA Men's Basketball, his successor is much clearer for that job than his regular gig at Duke.
Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs is the obvious candidate to lead the American side.
As a coach, he fits the profile in almost every way imaginable.
As a personality, there might be some issues.
Strictly basketball-wise, Pop is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. He owns four NBA titles as a head coach and his career regular- season record is 892-412 for a .684 winning percentage. His playoff numbers are 118-77 for a .605 mark.
Pop's 892 regular-season wins rank him 12th all-time and that winning percentage is third among coaches with 600 games. He has the third-most playoff wins and fourth-best winning percentage among coaches with at least 65 postseason games.
That's stout. That's Phil Jackson territory. Pop's going into the Hall of Fame one day and it won't be long after he leaves the Spurs' sidelines.
Pop has international experience to boot.
He was an assistant to Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics. Turned out to be a disastrous bronze medal, thanks to an ill-conceived roster, where too many stars of the game didn't want to play. Pop was also an assistant to George Karl at the 2002 FIBA World Championship.
Popovich even served his country. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, played all four seasons there and, after five years of active duty and leading the Armed Forces Team to an Amateur Athletic Union championship, he was invited to try out for the 1972 US Olympic team.
Pop has made a career of taking what others considered to be retreads and made them integral rotation pieces for the best organization in the NBA. He's coached more foreign players than any American and, yes, he's had an all-time great in Tim Duncan, but he's made stars of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And Popovich has made impact players of Danny Green, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair in recent seasons.
He is clearly the best coach of professional basketball players in the United States, if not the world. He can handle egos and personalities.
So why hasn't USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo handed Pop the reins?
You ever see the movie "Charlie Wilson's War?" Probably not, but let me explain.
There's a scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman's character is passionately ratting off all of these amazing achievements that should make him a CIA station chief. Hoffman's character asks why the job isn't his. His boss replies, "You're coarse."
Popovich can be tougher to be around than your mother-in-law. He's gruff with the media, but that all really masks an intellectual and wine enthusiast.
The biggest hurdle seems to be his relationships with the hierarchy of USA Basketball.
Popovich reportedly had a falling out with Colangelo at some point. Different reports will tell you it had to do with something when Colangelo ran the Suns. Others will say it revolved around Pop getting passed over after 2004.
Per a 2007 column from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, Colangelo gave his thoughts on Popovich's interview for the job in 2005.
"I think (Popovich) had a bad taste in his mouth regarding his most recent experiences with USA Basketball, some bitterness, and that came out in my conversation with him," Colangelo said. "He seemed burned out by it. He just wasn't as enthusiastic as Mike."
Wojnarowski went on to say Popovich was furious at the assertion. Seems reasonable for a man who served his country on different levels, and excelled as a basketball coach to be a wee-bit perturbed by the notion he wasn't enthusiastic about coaching his national team at its highest level.
Has enough time expired to soothe Popovich? Seems so, at least from Pop's end.
"Anybody would feel honored to have their name mentioned as far as the Olympic movement is concerned," Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News this week. "There are a lot of people who can fill that role. That goes without saying. Anybody would feel humbled and honored to even be talked about in that regard."
So Pop is interested, but there's one more potential roadblock, or, shall we say, one more rocky relationship that could cost him the job.
Popovich and outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern are not friends.
Earlier this season, Pop took the unusual step of flying Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green back to San Antonio before a nationally televised game in Miami, against the defending champion Heat. The Spurs finished a long road trip and their coach wanted to give those players time to rest.
Did Popovich need to fly them home commercial? Of course, he didn't. He was sending a message that he thought the NBA's schedule was unfair to his Spurs. Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 and said, "The Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."
Stern and Colangelo are friends. If Stern has any pull over USA Basketball that extends past friendship, then Pop might want to prepare a congratulatory text to the Boston Celtics' Doc Rivers.
Personal issues factor into things, but if Colangelo is committed to naming the right and best man (which I think he is), then Popovich will lead the U.S. team.
He's a Hall of Fame coach with international experience, the respect of everyone in the basketball world, including his prospective team, and served his country.
Popovich should be the choice.
But, he is coarse.
03/01 13:43:15 ET