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NBA [HOME] June 11, 2003

Coach Gregg Popovich Interview





San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich spoke with the media on Tuesday. The Spurs currently have a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals. Game 4 is Wednesday night in New Jersey.

Q: Byron Scott attributed the discrepancy in free throw attempts to the officiating, what do you attribute it to?

Popovich: Nothing. I never attribute free throws to whether we shoot a lot or a few, I never include the officials. I don't think they have anything to do with it. I think you create your own opportunities by being aggressive and I think whenever you start to think about officials being part of something, I think you're going down the wrong road. I think officials are there to do their job, which they do. They make mistakes just like players and coaches make mistakes. But other than that, it's never an issue with us. If you make it an issue, I think your focus gets a little bit off course.

Q: How do you approach your team's poor foul shooting at this point, because is there anything really you can do?

Popovich: No, I don't approach it at all. I don't do anything. Nothing I can do about it. They will go in or they won't.

We'll continue to get 50,000 letters from gurus that can change it all and that will be something that will happen, has always happened. When I was with Nellie, I remember somebody asking Nellie, well, why do you guy the shoot free throws so well?

He said, "Because Chris Mullin is shooting them." And that's the deal. Teams that shoot free throws well have good free throw shooters. There's probably some guy hanging around trying to take the credit that that he taught them this, that and the other. It's all baloney. They have good free throw shooters. If Steve Kerr was shooting all of our free throws, we would be a hell of a free throw team. When you start getting beyond that, it gets a little silly.

Q: Is it something that you can improve over the years?

Popovich: That's right. Free throw shooting can improve.

Q: Could you look back and look at the plan that you guys have had in place for the last couple of years and maybe if it's come to fruition before you thought it would, and just if you could trace exactly how you guys have gotten to where you are?

Popovich: How long is this press conference? (Laughter)

Q: Just the way that you have built this team to really have a lot of cap space this summer and to really be --

Popovich: That started five years ago. You don't just all of the sudden decide to do that. You have plans in place for a long period of time. No matter what plan you put in place, and we did that five years ago, for it to work the way you want it to work, you have to have some good fortune. Some things have to fall your way. What if Tony Parker was a dog? What if Stephen Jackson could not play? What if Manu Ginobili was a dog? That whole plan would be worthless. But it worked out. They turned out to be players. We made trades or signed people or not signed people with the thought of wanting to have this money for this coming summer, and it's worked out.

So I think we did plan well, but we have just as much good fortune and it looks like it worked in the sense that we will have that money and we do have a good basketball team.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your take on all of these head coaching jobs being filled by former head coaches, and not, say, guys that have been assistants for a long time, getting their first chance? And also, look at it as the fact that you came into a situation, too, where you were in a system for a long time, paid your dues and got your chance.

Popovich: Well, every situation is so unique. Some jobs are set so that they almost have to go get somebody with experience because of the nature of the team. Maybe where the team is either personnel-wise or ready to win in a certain way, and they feel that they need someone who has had the experience before or maybe some other teams are in a situation where an assistant coach looks better to them because they are not really looking for a big name to step in and take control of a certain group of people or they have to go win immediately.

I think it's really individual in that sense. So it's hard to say whether it should be a coach with experience or an assistant coach for a long time. But in general, I think lately, we've seen a lot of everything. You know, players are getting hired that have never coached before and sometimes that's a great pick and sometimes it's a poor pick. But it's an individual thing, again. There have been players that have been successful and players that have not been. It's the same with assistants and the same with hiring head coaches. So I think it's all about getting the fit. Sometimes it's an assistant that gets the fit, sometimes it's a college coach, sometimes it's a former NBA coach. So I think you have to take each situation on it's own merit.

Q: When you were coming up, did you ever get discouraged?

Popovich: No, I'm still of that fold where I still wake up wondering what the hell I'm doing here, and I mean that. I think that I'm the luckiest guy that ever was. I was fat, dumb and happy at a small division III school at Pomona and I loved it. And all of a sudden, I was sitting next to Larry (Brown) and I'm still trying to figure that one out. I'm a little bit weird in that sense. I didn't play in the NBA. I think every day is a blessing and a picnic and I'm waiting for it to end.

Q: Tim is getting stripped a lot and it looks like maybe the ball is low, is there anything else that he can do? It doesn't seem like normal that they take the ball away from him.

Popovich: Boy, oh boy, you're like a coach over here, getting pretty specific.

I think Kenyon Martin is an excellent defender. I think he's a very physical, a very aggressive young man. I think he's trying to take on the challenge of Tim Duncan. He's doing a good job.

I think Timmy is learning that this guy is quick of hand and playing him aggressively and I think as each game is going by, Tim is protecting the ball more and more and being stronger with it because he sees how Kenyon is playing him.

Q: You and RC (Buford) after the first championship, how did you go about selling Tim and David on the idea of, we're going to have a rookie point guard here who is going to start, we drafted this kid out of Argentina who is going to be good, we're going to bring in Stephen Jackson who was cut by nine teams, how did you sell them on these guys a lot of people didn't want, how did that help them win?

Popovich: That's a great question. I think the best answer, the honest answer, which is usually the best answer, is that we're blessed with two guys that just trust us. Not because we're wonderful people, but because that's their nature. They are respectful, mature guys who believe in people. Until we prove them wrong, if we started bringing guys in and it was failure, failure, failure, then they might look at us a bit, but they trust us, maybe because we've done some other things.

I think a lot of it begins with Avery Johnson. I don't know if you think back, everybody said, you can't win with Avery Johnson and Avery can't shoot and Avery can't do that, and we went and gave him a four-year contract, the first time he ever had anything extended in his life. And Tim and David and everybody realized what a great leader he was and the great things he did to help us do what we did. It probably instilled a bit of confidence with him. We brought in other people, Mario Elie when nobody wanted him any more and Jaren Jackson. So we had a little bit of a record of bringing in people that we thought would fit for a variety of reasons and it worked.

So when we talked to them about these guys, they said, okay, fine. But mostly it's because they are trusting people and we had a history of it working before. That's probably why.

Q: Do you recall Tim or David even intimating there's a chance we could bring in a superstar, a Grant Hill or somebody like that?

Popovich: We talk about that all the time. You have to include those guys in your decisions or you're going around in the dark. It doesn't make much sense to go do things and go to the people who are the stars of your team after the fact and say, we did this. At least, that's what we do. We include them when they know every free agent we might want to go after. We won't tell them -- we tell them it might involve some trades but we don't go through all of the details of the trade because I don't think it's fair to them to have to know about what teammates may stay or go, but the other possibilities we'll talk to them about. Because if Tim Duncan says to me, I can't play with that guy or what the hell do we want that guy on our team for, I don't think it's real smart on my part to go get that guy.

Q: Could you just discuss the impact or contribution that is Sam Schuler has made to the front office and how he makes your job easier?

Popovich: Sam, I think he was the first person I brought when I came to the Spurs about eight or nine years ago. RC -- either RC or Sam, and I did that purposefully because I had become familiar with Sam at Golden State when I was working for Nellie. So I brought him to run the draft and to make sure that we had a good start in that area as far as setting the scouting, the draft. He's done that from day one. That was right after he was responsible for drafting Sprewell at Golden State, whenever that was, 20-something or 23 and everybody passed on him. So he's a good man. He's a hard worker. He's somebody who understands the bus very well and I thought having that kind of experience would really help me in that regard. So he's been very important to us.

Q: In three games, they have one backdoor layup and zero alley-oop dunks, how important has that been to what you have been able to achieve so far?

Popovich: It's important. I mean, it's something that we've concentrated on because it's something that they do well. They run a beautiful offense. They execute very well. It's scary to play against in a lot of ways, so we are just trying to limit certain areas if we can, and some places we've been successful and others we haven't.

Q: How have you been able to do that, especially with the alley-oops, that's something that's a signature of theirs and to not even get one.

Popovich: You really think I'm going to tell you that?

Q: Generally speaking.

Popovich: Generally, no. (Laughter). is the online leader in pro basketball coverage.

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