Notoriously terse in his dealings with the media, the coach is apparently just as selective with his sideline chatter to his team.
There's a method to this madness, an empowerment bestowed upon his players to build character and confidence. Still, it's a bit jarring to hear the coach of 14 (and counting) consecutive 50-win teams admit to practicing the silent treatment during some of his timeouts, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:
Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away.
Why would someone with four championship rings in his collection find himself at a loss for words?
"Because it’s true," he explained. "There’s nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls—, and act like I’m a coach or something, but it’s on them."
There's a time for in-game strategy, but coaches earn a big chunk of their paychecks during times of practice and preparation. Timeouts can offer some badly needed reminders, but there are only so many ways to deliver the same message.
Popovich's veteran-laden roster understands what it needs to do to compete every night and contend for something of significance at season's end. Giving them a voice and placing some power in their hands personalizes what he's already taught them, increasing their individual investment in what they're trying to accomplish collectively.
"I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do," Popovich said. "It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group."
It's just another way Popovich has mastered the art of coaching.
It's also an intriguing look at what exactly the profession entails.
"What’s...interesting...is hearing one of the most well-respected coaches in the game explain that there’s only so much he can do, and sometimes, it’s up to the players themselves to figure things out," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin observed.
No matter who's delivering the message, though, it seems to be having its intended impact.
The Spurs have picked up seven wins in their last eight games, most recently a 122-101 dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday that saw San Antonio toss out 39 assists on 43 made field goals.
In other words, great feelings aren't the only positives that can come out of 13 individuals acting as one.