“There is nothing to be surprised about.” That’s how Gregg Popovich started his explanation after Team USA lost to France – their first loss in the Olympics since Athens 2004. Pop is now 6-3 as the head coach of Team USA in big tournaments, the World Cup, and now the Olympics.
As much as Pop is trying to be cool about it, repeatedly lecturing reporters that they are underestimating the international basketball scene and that the days of winning by 30 are gone, things are different behind the scenes. Despite the fact this group of guys never played before, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, and the crew should be playing better, and they know it.
“To be clear, Popovich is horrified by his own record coaching this team. He dwells on it and hates the losing. The players are frustrated, too, grumbling on their way back to the locker room about “running the San Antonio offense” when apparently they feel like there are better ideas. Pop has said, because of the truncated nature of Team USA’s training camp, the offense would be based on “concepts” instead of set plays.”Joe Vardon, The Athletic
Popovich has always been a fan of international basketball. The Spurs were the first team to truly open up their roster to players from abroad, and now he can’t seem to develop a basketball identity that would win games against France and Australia. It’s no surprise Pop is frustrated – he lost the gig to Coach K a long time ago due to a weird phone call, and now that his time has finally arrived, things are not going according to plan.
“I called Pop, and this turned out to be another problem for the two of us at that time. I didn’t sense any real enthusiasm over the phone. He was basically being himself because he doesn’t show a lot of emotion or enthusiasm.”Jerry Colangelo, “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team”
Pop was always a system guy, but that approach requires a lot of time. It seems like the winning strategy for Team USA is what Pop dislikes about basketball the most – pick & roll heavy offense predicated on individual qualities. That’s the one area other teams are obviously better at; all these guys have been playing together for years and know each other’s preferences and tendencies. Team USA doesn’t have that.
Pop will have to face the fact that the gold at the Tokyo Olympics won’t be won playing The Beautiful Game. A hierarchy has to be established, and he has to let the best scorers on the planet cook. The 2014 Spurs aren’t the model to copy here – the 2021 Brooklyn Nets are.