Gregg Popovich Extension Means No End in Sight for San Antonio Spurs Dynasty

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on against the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Why go out on top if you can stay on top?

That kind of thinking just might have motivated San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to stick around for a few more years.

The franchise released a brief statement on Wednesday: "The San Antonio Spurs today announced that head coach Gregg Popovich has agreed to a multi-year contract extension. Per club policy terms of the contract were not disclosed."

Accordingly, we don't know how much money the deal is worth or for how many years it runs. All we have to go on is a little bit of hearsay.

Even if we conservatively estimate that Popovich will coach for just four more seasons, that could mean a couple of things.

First, it probably suggests that Pop will outlast the iconic Tim Duncan, who turned 38 in April. The upcoming campaign isn't necessarily Duncan's last, but it's fair to assume he's taking things on a year-to-year basis at this point. In any event, it's hard to imagine him playing well into his 40s.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Tim Duncan #21 and Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates after winning the NBA Championship against the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at A
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Second, Popovich's presence means the Spurs will remain very good—if not outright contenders.

Yes, the NBA is a player's league that is defined by the personnel on the court more than those stalking the sidelines. It's unlike the college game in that respect; the NBA is governed by larger-than-life personalities like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

But San Antonio is a different kind of beast, and its success over the last three seasons—culminating in the 2014 championship—has proved as much.

More than any other club, the Spurs are sort of like an NCAA program. Rather than relying on one or two stars to carry the load, San Antonio is an ensemble affair. It's a team that's driven by collective efforts on both ends of the floor. The players share the ball and minutes alike in a virtually egalitarian fashion.

That kind of culture and system starts with the head coach, and fans across the heart of Texas are no doubt relieved to know it isn't going anywhere imminently.

The decision comes with little pomp and circumstance. To the extent it's any surprise at all, it certainly has more to do with the longevity and success Popovich has already logged than it does the interests of the organization.

As's James Herbert put it:

Coming off an NBA championship and his second Coach of the Year award -- how has he only won it twice? -- this was a no-brainer. San Antonio should try to lock up the best coach in the game for as long as it can. The fact that this barely registers as news during this crazy free-agency period is a testament to the way the Spurs organization works.

It may not overshadow free-agency decisions made by the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony when it comes to media hype, but Popovich's return may be every bit as important when it comes to establishing the Spurs as contenders for the foreseeable future.

Not without Duncan, you say?

Keep in mind that arguably no institution in professional sports has done a better job of restocking its talent while remaining competitive at the same time. The notion that a rebuild is inevitable is predicated on league-wide standard operating procedure. Again, San Antonio is different.

There are no long-term contracts slated to bog down the organization's cap space. There are youngsters like Livio Jean-Charles stashed overseas. There's young in-house talent like Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills poised to adopt even larger roles when the time comes.

SAN ANTONIO, TX JUNE 6: R.C. Buford General Manager of the San Antonio Spurs addresses the media during media availability as part of the 2014 NBA Finals on June 6, 2014 at the Spurs Practice Facility in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

In short, there's general manager R.C. Buford. If he hasn't done enough to earn your trust by now, then count these Spurs out at your own risk.

Chances are the talent part of the equation works itself out. Since Popovich and Duncan first arrived, it always has—sometimes with veteran imports (Michael Finley, Robert Horry) and other times with astute draft steals (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili). The fact remains that in Duncan's 17 seasons, the Spurs have never spent a season seriously retooling—much less rebuilding.

This team is always one step ahead in that respect.

More importantly—and thanks to Popovich—the Spurs are always in position to make the most of what's on hand. Put in military terms he'd surely appreciate, Popovich is a force multiplier. Give him an average roster, and he'll take it to the playoffs. Give him a good roster, and he just might win a title with it.

Unlike Phil Jackson or Erik Spoelstra, Popovich has never needed a superteam. He just needs guys who are willing to play like a team.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs directs his team in a huddle during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Much of that has to do with Popovich's willingness to adapt to his personnel. For all the talk of San Antonio's vaunted system, there has actually been a continuum of systems over the years.

"We're not as good as we used to be defensively," Popovich said during last season's NBA Finals, according to SBNation's Paul Flannery. "So, if that's going to diminish, you need to do something at the other end of the floor to make up for it. We changed our pace, and the way we approach things at the other end of the floor to make up for what we're going to lose defensively."

Per Flannery, Parker echoed that sentiment, saying:

We've been playing together for the last three or four years, high pace, move the ball, try to score more points. As the league evolved and a lot of teams score a lot of points, we had to change a little bit of our game. And before we were a halfcourt team, pass it to Timmy. But that's the beauty of coach Pop and Timmy and everybody in this organization, we try to adapt.

And adapt the Spurs have.

Under a guy once considered a defensive guru, San Antonio has transformed into an offensive powerhouse—blowing out teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the postseason with aggressive pace and relentless ball movement.

Of course, it's taken more than sound philosophy to spur such an evolution.

It has also required things like player development. Leonard and Mills didn't turn into Finals heroes overnight. Under Popovich, they grew into the kind of players who were always prepared to answer the call and contribute as needed. 

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15:  Manu Ginobili #20, Patty Mills #8 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate on the bench in the closing minutes of Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Associated Press' Raul Dominquez put it best regarding Mills:

A healthier diet and improved conditioning has done more than transform Mills' physique. It has turned him from someone who led choreographed cheers from the bench to a key reserve that creates chaos on the floor with his long-range shooting and pestering defense.

In Leonard's case, the big change was his shooting form—an improvement made after years of working with shooting coach Chip Engelland.

Popovich can't take credit for directly causing some of these developments, and he wouldn't want to. 

It should go without saying, however, that the buck stops with him. The professionalism and attitude his personnel display are unquestionably a function of the inspired leadership that comes from the top.

Guys know their roles. They understand expectations. And they consistently rise to the occasion.

That kind of follow-through is no coincidence.

Nor has it been an exception in San Antonio.

After missing the playoffs in his first season as head coach, Popovich's teams have become a mainstay. In the subsequent years, his Spurs have lost in the first round just three times and won five titles. In addition to those championship seasons, San Antonio has lost in the NBA Finals once and made it to three additional Western Conference Finals.

It's telling that those five titles have included three different Finals MVPs.

That kind of track record bodes well for the next few years, with or without Duncan around. The Spurs will continue to do their jobs so long as Popovich is at the helm. Though it remains far too soon to guarantee additional titles, it's relatively safe to assume this team will remain in the conversation.

The more things change under this coach, the more they stay exactly the same. 


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