What is my relationship with Gregg Popovich?

by

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the comments section here at 48 Minutes of Hell. A small but vocal minority has been increasingly critical of Gregg Popovich and has even called for the coach that helped bring this franchise four NBA titles to be fired.

I’ll admit, I find people who believe that to be deeply frustrating. It’s a laughable opinion, shortsighted at best. Nonetheless the few yet hypercritical who have been haunting 48 Minutes of Hell recently do pose an interesting question, however unintentionally, for your humble author: What is my relationship with Gregg Popovich?

To be clear, I am not interested in my personal relationship with the man. I know what he thinks of me: Nothing at all. I can assure you that every time I have had the pleasure of interviewing Popovich he has forgotten about my existence mere moments after we have gone our separate ways.

My question is more abstract. As a supporter of the team, as a journalist, and as a student of the game, what is my relationship with Gregg Popovich?

The answer to that question lies in a different question, one which strikes at the heart of why I have chosen to pursue the craft of journalism: Do I wish to know or do I think I know better?

Layton Ehmke, a close friend and a brilliant journalist, is fond of explaining his favorite aspect of our profession by saying, “I love asking cool people questions.” Ehmke, whose mannerisms are a cross between a Midwestern farmer and a Californian surfer, is endowed with an enviable characteristic both of those archetypes possess. He has the uncanny ability to capture insight with simple language. I mention the characteristic specifically because of how dramatically I lack it.

In this instance, he has touched upon a particular insight that far too few members of the media understand: It is better to listen than to be heard.

Punch drunk boxers and hedge fund managers. SWAT team members and major conference commissioners. Graffiti artists and urban farmers. In the brief time I’ve had the pleasure of calling myself a journalist, these are the kinds of people I’ve had the opportunity to speak with and, more importantly, listen to. Just think of whom I’ll have met by the time I’m done.

It’s important to remember that, like Gregg Popovich, it means little to any of these people that they’ve spoken with me. Why should it? They are actors; I am merely an observer. But the idea of speaking with them is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s my job to find very interesting people and ask them questions. All things considered, it’s a pretty good job.

This brings me back to the difference between knowing and knowing better. It’s not my job to know better than Gregg Popovich. And thank God it isn’t, because I don’t. But it is my job to try to know him, to look at the decisions he makes as a coach and understand them as best I can. Sometimes I have what are commonly referred to as “criticisms,” instances in which I don’t understand what he is doing and can envision a strategy or tactic that I believe would have been more effective.

But rather than react with vitriol, I try my best to remain sober and inquisitive. That’s the tone we strive for here at 48 Minutes of Hell and it’s the attitude we hope our readers embody as well. I’m not saying you can’t be critical of Gregg Popovich. All I’m saying is, if you are waiting to see a member of this staff react disdainfully towards a coach and a front office that has brought this franchise four titles, you’re wasting your time.

I may have moments where I am confused or critical. But at those moments I don’t have the audacity to believe I could do a better job. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say no one could do a better job– not Phil Jackson, not Jerry Sloan, not anyone –of coaching the San Antonio Spurs than Gregg Popovich. That does not mean he is infallible. What it means is that when I question his decisions, I do exactly that: I ask questions about his decisions in the hopes that I may discover answers. What I don’t do is assume I know better.

  • rj

    i aim definately on of the minority that has but the words “pop” and “fire” in the same sentence.

    i will admit i am an emotional guy and that’s why i would make a terrible sports writer. i have a friend who covers the mavericks in their PR department. i would gouge my eyeballs out with toothpicks.

    any how, i would like to see pop move more towards a rebuilding approach rather than see what he can squeeze out what he can from dice, bogans, and formerly, fin. i would still like to him incorporate mahinmi and hairston in limited roles for the time being, but once again, that is my emotion talking. i am hung up on this frenchman for some reason. i just want to see an athletic big on this team. pop must prove that he can rebuild this team, but even he said so himself that he should be fired at one point.

    thanks for reaching out to the fans and opening a dialogue. no one is really right or wrong here, but it’s nice to receive an address from you guys.

    thanks for this awsome blog. i shoot my fingers off on a daily basis here and i love it

    GO SPURS

    GO 48minoh

  • Jim Henderson

    Brian
    March 3rd, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    “Would he double Bogans production? Would he be required to? I guess it depends on your definition of production… Bogans role is as a role player with limited ‘box score production’ opportunity. He is not reuired or asked for more.”

    True, we don’t need MAJOR “box score” production from Bogans. However, we do need more than this:

    Bogans average production numbers over the past 6 games:

    Minutes – 21
    FG’s – 7 for 26 – 27%
    3 pt. – 3 for 16 – 19%
    Rebounds – 1.0 per game
    Assists – 1.2 per game
    TO’s – 1.0 per game
    PF’s – 2.5 per game
    Points – 3.0 per game

    Hairston has recently shown that he has the potential to do just that, in the Rocket game:

    Hairston’s numbers (an upgrade over Bogans #’s that are meaningful & helpful to team success) in the only game he got significant minutes in “non-garbage” time (getting 18 minutes starting middle of 3rd Q, down 20, is NOT garbage time). And if you remember, his game showed that he merely exploited opportunity on the offensive end; he didn’t demand the ball away from the other “scorers”.

    Minutes – 18
    FG’s – 4 of 6 – 67%
    3 pt. – did not shoot one (although shooting 41% in D- league)
    Rebounds – FIVE, three on the offensive glass
    Assists – One
    TO’s – ZERO
    PF’s – One
    Points – EIGHT

    ** A team high +18 when he was on the court!

    Here you say:

    “In the future, he may be required to do more, so let’s better prepare him for that.

    Why would it hurt to give Hairston game time now? Remember, some level of “preparation” has to come from “meaningful” game time experience.

    So I ask again, other than pure faith in Pop’s decisions (and I think he’s great, but everyone’s fallible), what leads one to believe that Hairston doesn’t have a shot at giving us a needed boost in the role that Bogans currently occupies?

  • Brian

    @ Jim

    Bogans certainly has underperformed in the last 6 games. That underperfomance is an understatement, but comparing such a small sample size (six games to one) is underhanded. What’s the over/under on that?

    Bogans has had some very good performances as well as the bad. He could be shooting the ball better right now but I don’t think the last six games are indicative of any over-riding underachievment in the shooting stakes and are rather a fairly commonly occuring (among all players) shooting slump from which he will recover.

    Hairston did give quality minutes against the Rockets, but I think you overstate their meaningfulness… Down 20 with nothing to lose? Pop has a history of surrendering such games and going to the less used players to see what they can do. These situations vary greatly in meaning to those where less than 10 points separate the teams and the outcome is yet to be determined. They are meaningful insofar as the game had more than a quarter to play, not that the result was on the line. Let’s not confuse that fact.

    Using a one game sample size, selectively can make Ian Mahinmi look an all-star, like his performance against the Nets. Sure an argument can be made that any minutes against the Nets this season can hardly be called meaningful (including a start), but Brook Lopez is no mug.

    I take that Hairston could provide at the very least the same as Bogans and getting that experience would be a good thing, and to that end I agree.

    Pop seems to be taking the earn your minutes and establish a work ethic that nothing comes easy rather than give minutes for the benefit of that experience playing in NBA games.

    Which is better for the development of a player? I don’t know and would certainly not presume to know better than Pop.

    Is there another way to what Pop is doing? Yes, and some other organisations prescribe to it…

    I also think that Pop is taking the same/similar track with Hairston this season as he did Hill last (when Spurs fans were begging for more Hill PT).

    I like the outcome of that scenario, and hope I like it equally with Hairstons.

  • grego

    Spurs are in a tough position. Duncan and Manu are in their final few years and being a contender once again will take a long while.

    The front office has a limited payroll so they have to be careful with their moves. The big problem with the team this year is the amount of new players in the regular rotation.

    Spurs have a lot of roster spots to fill in the offseason. Pop needs to retain some of these guys who the problem repeats itself.

    —-
    The most important thing for Pop is getting his rotational players up to speed. RJ and McDyess are looking like they are finally turning the corner.

    Blair is a rookie who is maturing with time. He still has a good amount of bad habits which tend to take him out of the game (mostly fouls these days).

    Then you have your other new guy, Bogans. He’s a better than average defender, but he’s not a great defender. However, he’s still learning the system as well. Defense gets easier once you know the system. Pop needs guys he can depend on in key defensive sequences. This is why he sticks with him.

    The growth of Hill is the best story of the season so far outside of how amazing Blair has been in a few games. However, this is his first season where the pressure actually exists and the expectations are higher. More often than not, he has brought it, but he still doesn’t have that ability like the big 3 (have, but haven’t shown as often this season)

    Parker not being healthy definitely has taken its toll. Spurs did suffer when they lost many of their shooters. Both Finley and Bonner were shooting well when they went down with injuries. Mason Jr. who has been super inconsistent this season became the only shooter.

    Spurs didn’t have the luxury to stick a new shooter in since the other two sat for long periods of time. And for a shooter, losing rhythm is often fatal especially as minutes become tighter and games become more important (and often times higher quality opponents).

  • David

    Ballhog you make it sound as if we drafted Kwame Brow or something, and Im sure you agree Manu, Tony and Hill have been great WHO? drafts. I dont think this is an area in which we should be worried too much, you cant be right 100% of the time anyhows.

  • zack

    Agree with spursfan78,
    I am definitely one of those guys calling pop out, the way i see it when he does great things we praise him for it, why not be able to question or be angry at his decesions when theyre obviously insane and hurting the team. I know hes 20x smarter than me all the more reason, how in the heck are we hurting so bad with a “genius” as a coach???!!?

    spurs fan 78 said it all for me, there needs to be these questions for pop not halftime questions real questions!! san antonio is a very loyal city, very!! like i said previously there are hundreds of thousands of people “you know all the people who go out and see games religiously!” im one of them along side hundreds of people at the local bars, hooters, and we do talk about whats not being said every single discussion. theres always been a love hate relationship but overall “pop knows best” attitude as the conversation ended. So when you hear “rants” were not some young kids coming in here being disrespectful, you better believe that people are pissed off at these decisions, try going to fatsos during a game, not courtside seats in the lockerroom.

    what im saying is if these questions were answered for the “common person” there would be less animosity towards “pop” because we’d know why hes doing certain things, now hes smart enough to understand that isnt he? spursfan78, said some of our problems best, ballhog too. We want answers behind what appears to be “absurd and incoherent decisions by poppovich” thats all.

  • Jim Henderson

    Brian
    March 3rd, 2010 at 9:08pm

    Thanks for the response to my post. I’m quoting excerpts of your comments below, and I’ll respond after each.

    “Hairston did give quality minutes against the Rockets, but I think you overstate their meaningfulness… Down 20 with nothing to lose? Pop has a history of surrendering such games and going to the less used players to see what they can do. These situations vary greatly in meaning to those where less than 10 points separate the teams and the outcome is yet to be determined. They are meaningful insofar as the game had more than a quarter to play, not that the result was on the line. Let’s not confuse that fact.”

    I have to disagree. Anytime a team is down about twenty points with a full 18 minutes to play, that game is NEVER considered over by either team in an NBA game. 18 minutes is an eternity in the NBA! Also, the Spurs did have a shot a winning that game. They cut a 23 pt. Rocket lead to 7 in a 16 minute span with about 2 minutes still remaining. A seven point deficit with 2 minutes remaining; that game is still “winnable”, my friend. Unless you think the next time we’re up seven with two minutes left you think Pop should go ahead and take out our best players? I don’t think so, and I’m sure you’d agree.

    “Bogans certainly has underperformed in the last 6 games. That underperfomance is an understatement, but comparing such a small sample size (six games to one) is underhanded.”

    Look, I’m just pointing out the recent trend, which I’m afraid is more important than past history right now. Why do you think Bonner has sat more recently; because he shot 35% from 3 pt. land in the month of February instead of his 40%+ avg.

    And the fact is, Bogans only avgs. 40% FG! (this is terrible), 4.5 pts., 1.2 assists, & 2.5 rebounds per game for the entire year (56 GAMES), at 20 minutes per game. On the other hand, in Hairston’s 49 games played in a Spurs uniform, including last years, he’s averaged 50% FG, and, if you pro-rated his minutes to Bogans minutes, he would have had higher production numbers in ALL categories. Now of course, his minutes aren’t as meaningful (more “garbage” minutes), and that’s why in my original analysis I stuck to the Houston game. But you were objecting to small sample size, so here you go, a larger sample. Now, FOR THE DATA TO BE MORE VALID, HAIRSTON WOULD NEED TO PLAY MORE REGULAR, MEANINGFUL MINUTES. So you see the catch-22. The fact is we won’t have PROOF that Hairston would or would not help us over Bogans unless we give him a chance. There’s always some risk involved, and in this case I contend it’s worth it, because we ain’t goin nowhere with Bogans this year. That is a fact anyone with commonsense KNOWS (even Pop would probably admit this).

    “I also think that Pop is taking the same/similar track with Hairston this season as he did Hill last (when Spurs fans were begging for more Hill PT).

    I like the outcome of that scenario, and hope I like it equally with Hairstons.”

    This is not anywhere near a good analogy. Hill played a lot last year, including a lot of meaningful minutes, particularly with the injuries to Parker & Ginobli. Hill got into 77 games last year at 17 mins. per game, and is getting 28 mins. per game this year. Hairston got 10 mins. game last year (including more garbage mins.), and this year he’s only averaging 4 mins. per game. No, he’s NOT being developed like Hill, but he should be, otherwise why even have him on the roster?

  • Colin

    Zack

    Be patient man, you’ve obviously been rooting for the Spurs no earlier than their first championship season and been spoiled by success. Nothing you mentioned actually had to do with how the team plays, nuances of players, etc. Why does everyone get soooo riled up at the first sign of adversity? This is what it feels like to be the other 95% of teams in the NBA. I’ve been rooting for the Spurs since I could first read the box score and “Cadillac” Williams was their best player. 20 win seasons were the norm and yet I would still look to see who did what………until Robinson came to town and blew all of the anticipation came to fruition. We can all thank Robinson and Duncan for initiating success on the court since and Poppovich for facilitating it all since he became head coach.

    —-You’re right, Poppovich is 20x smarter than you and will forget more basketball than you (and me) will ever know. 10 games over .500 isn’t exactly hurting (again, we’ve all been spoiled). Keep things in perspective, the world will be Ok.