Gregg Popovich has been coaching the San Antonio Spurs since 1996. Since then, the team won five NBA titles, and Pop has three Coach of the Year awards to his name. Longevity in the coaching position is a reflection of success and trust in the management. Popovich has been blessed with both, and he has imparted wisdom to assistant coaches who served under him along the way. We are currently watching two of Pop’s guys coach it out in the Finals – that says it all about his greatness. Here’s the Pop coaching tree.
Budenholzer has transformed his teams into perennial Playoff contenders. The Milwaukee Bucks went all the way to the finals this year. He has had similar success with the Atlanta Hawks, who played a very Spurs-like style of basketball. Since he became a head coach in 2013, Bud’s teams missed the postseason only once. If Mike and the Bucks win it all, he will become one of Gregg’s greatest former assistant coaches.
Mike Brown will be best remembered for his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He coached Lebron James, and they reached the NBA finals in 2007 to only lose against Pop and the Spurs. Brown was an assistant in San Antonio from 2000 to 2003. He became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and assistant coach of Golden State Warriors after his stint in Cleveland.
Few people know this, but Mike D’Antoni also has a Pop connection. D’Antoni’s first head coaching gig was with the Nuggets in the shortened ’98/’99 lockout season. The team performed poorly, and Mike, as they would say today, mutually parted ways. Pop snapped him off the free market immediately and gave D’Antoni a scouting job. Pop often gave great NBA minds a safe haven in San Antonio, understanding they won’t be there for a long time. Mike D’Antoni may be the best of those.
Quin Snyder’s door to the NBA was opened by Gregg Popovich when he saw something in the young Snyder and gave the nod of approval for Snyder to become the head coach of the Austin Toros – the Spurs D-League team. During his three-year tenure in Austin, Snyder compiled more wins and guided more players to the NBA than any other coach in the D-League. He then worked as an assistant for three Pop guys – Mike Brown in LA, Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, and Ettore Messina in Moscow’s CSKA.
Gentry’s first coaching gig was with Gregg Popovich as a colleague – they were both assistant coaches for Larry Brown in San Antonio. After stints with the Heat and the Pistons, Alvin returned to San Antonio to be reunited with his former co-workers. Pop was the head coach, and R.C. Buford was now the General Manager. His most famous stint as an assistant was with D’Antoni and the 7 seconds or less Suns – another Pop connection working out.
They were the darlings of the NBA this season. The Hornets gave the ball to LaMelo Ball and let the Rookie of the Year do his thing. The man who had the courage to make that decision was a former Spurs assistant, James Borrego. He started as an assistant video coordinator in the summer of 200. He spent seven seasons with the Spurs, being part of two NBA championship teams in 2005 and 2007 before leaving the team to join former Spurs’ assistant Monty Williams when he took the head coach job with the New Orleans Hornets from 2010 until 2012. After a stint with the Hornets and the Magic, Borrego returned to San Antonio for three years before becoming the Head Coach in Charlotte in 2018.
Winning three in a row with the Bulls wasn’t enough for Steve Kerr. He joined the Spurs in 1998 and won a fourth one with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Kerr became the second player to win four straight NBA titles without being a part of the 1960s Boston Celtics dynasty, the other being Frank Saul, who won four straight with Rochester and Minneapolis from 1951 to 1954. After a stint with the Blazers, Kerr returned to San Antonio, where he finished his career with a fifth ring in 2003.
After taking a break, he returned to the NBA as a part-owner of the Suns and became the General Manager. Who did he hire to coach the team? Mike D’Antoni and assistant Alvin Gentry.
We placed Monty under former players, but the truth is he could be in either category. Williams played for the Spurs from ’96 to ’98, was an intern coach in 2005, and front office executive (VP of Player Operations) with the Silver and Black (2016).
While giving his interview after the Suns made the Finals, Monty gave credit to Popovich for still giving him advice. Once a Pop guy, always a Pop guy.
This one often flies under the radar, but Doc Rivers finished his career playing for the Spurs from 1994 to 1996. He was brought in by the new general manager and vice president of basketball operations – Gregg Popovich.
The list of former assistant coaches and former players making a name for themselves is growing. The most recent name is Ime Udoka, who became the Head Coach of the Boston Celtics. This is a testament to Coach Pop’s greatness as a mentor and as a friend. He imparts knowledge that can be used on and off the court. Ball movement and solid defense, a trademark of Spurs basketball, are evident in the teams that former assistant coaches and former players are now handling. It seems like the center of the NBA universe is in south-central Texas.
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