Gregg Popovich interview prior to start of Finals
The NBA Playoffs have reached the round that matters: The NBA Finals, featuring the San Antonio Spurs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, begin tonight. Here's what Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had to say yesterday:
Q. Could you talk about your relationship with Mike Brown and what he was like for you as an assistant coach here?
GREGG POPOVICH: Mike was and still is very special, to me personally, and professionally he was fantastic. He added a lot to our program. He had a lot of great ideas. You know, a wonderful personality, got along well with everybody. He was a hard worker, just enjoyed being around him and his family. You know, when it was time for him to move on, we lost a good one, and we knew that. But he'll always be a favorite of ours and of mine.
Q. Within the context of The Finals, is LeBron James any more difficult to prepare for as an opponent as an individual than, say, Latrell Sprewell, Jason Kidd, some of those guys? Does he present more of a challenge for you in this round than some of the other players you have faced?
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, I haven't taken any time to be that analytical and wonder if he's more of a challenge than somebody else. We're playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron James is a huge part of that, and he demands a lot of attention, and we're not going to stop him. We're going to try to make him work hard for what he gets, but he's different from a lot of other guys because he can do so many different things.
His size, strength and explosiveness make it possible for him to be in situations where others would have to do things like give up the ball. He doesn't have to do that. He can still make chicken salad (laughter), if you know what I mean.
Q. Can you talk about what Daniel Gibson has meant to them?
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, obviously when Mike made the choice to start playing him, it opened up the floor quite a bit. LeBron showed a lot of trust in him because obviously LeBron has the ball a lot. But he didn't hesitate to use his teammates, to trust them, and to make sure that it was the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Detroit Pistons. And that's who won, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Q. Has it been difficult to get a team back up to playoff speed when you've had a little bit of time off like you guys have had over the last week or so?
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, that's a great question, but you won't know the answer until tomorrow night (laughter). They were fired up for shoot-around today. It was longer than what we would have wanted. We wished we would have played sooner, but that's neither here nor there.
So we'll see if we're rusty or if the emotion is gone or something like that. I don't know. I hope that that doesn't show itself.
Q. Anything different routine-wise in the preparation? You've been to The Finals a few times now. Have you changed anything?
GREGG POPOVICH: No.
Q. Still the same routine?
GREGG POPOVICH: Right. Couldn't think of anything new (laughter).
Q. Well, it worked in the past --
GREGG POPOVICH: No creativity, no thinking out of the box, same old stuff. It's good or it's not, either way.
Q. I know you and Mike talk on the phone a lot. Do you recall what he shared with you about LeBron when he first got to Cleveland and maybe what kind of player he was inheriting, if you will?
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, I think our conversations are between us. But just in general, without breaking any confidences, Mike just felt a great responsibility. He wanted to do the best job he could to create an environment where LeBron could be successful and where the city could be proud of the team. And that's really the basis from which he started. He just felt that responsibility and wanted to do everything he could to make that happen.
Q. If I could follow-up, is there a sense of pride for you that the Cavaliers have done a lot of this using the Spurs' model?
GREGG POPOVICH: I wouldn't presume to agree with your preface there. Mike has been with other coaches, and he's got Coach Egan sitting at his side, who was my boss way back in the '70s and who played -- coached here with me for seven or eight years. Mike has been around a lot of people, and he and I both have learned more from Coach Egan than we've learned from each other. That's the real core of the whole deal.
Q. Just to expand on that question, they've also got Danny Ferry who used to work here as their general manager. You're seeing more and more of your people going throughout the league. Obviously it's very much a sign of respect, and that has to feel good.
GREGG POPOVICH: What was his last name, Danny?
GREGG POPOVICH: Ferry. He was, he was here. He was here. I think for a month or so he was here. I don't really remember what he did or how good a job he did. I can't remember him really. I can't remember him.
Q. You never say much about that, but you must go home and feel pretty good about this?
GREGG POPOVICH: He's going to get me back for that. It just means we made some good choices probably. Danny, when he decided to retire, just told me, do anything you want. You want to coach, you want to be the coach, you want to be the manager, what do you want to do? We've got to keep you here. He obviously chose management over coaching. We're thrilled with it. He obviously did a great job. He's done another great job in Cleveland because he's intelligent, he's got great judgment and he has a great feel for basketball and for people who play it. I think the fact that he was here means that we recognized his abilities. But beyond that, these guys have done it on their own, the guys that have moved on and done well. We'll take credit for making good choices in the beginning and hiring pretty good people, but after that they get the credit for what they've done.
Q. Just to go to a larger point, people want to hire your people now. They're all being interviewed here, there and everywhere else, from what we read, and they may be hired. You must be very proud of this organization and what you've contributed.
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, you know, the success we've had, very frankly, as we all know or should know, when David Robinson was followed by Tim Duncan, your major job is not to screw that up (laughter). A lot of people would have liked to have that opportunity to be successful under those circumstances. That's important.
And the second thing is that our owner, Peter Holt, allows us to do our job. You know, R. C. Buford with management and myself coaching and the staffs that we have, I can't remember, if ever, Peter calling any of us in and saying why did you do this, what's the deal, no, you can't do that. We have done whatever we've wanted to do for a decade, and that's just an unequivocal fact.
If you have an owner that's going to allow you to do your job, you know, whether you fail or not -- I mean, if you fail you're gone obviously, that's the business we're in. But if you have that, then you have the former situations I mentioned, and you've got a pretty good chance to do something good.
Q. Looking back at the first championship run. What do you think it meant to Tim as a young player having David there next to him to kind of bounce things off of him and just lean on him and learn from that whole run?
GREGG POPOVICH: Well, Tim may be the first person to tell you that having David there when he first came in the league was a tremendous influence in so many ways. Obviously on the basketball court, work ethic, David played with pain a lot. He practiced every day. When I tried to boot him off the floor, he wouldn't go, and Timmy was privy to that sort of a situation. David's personal life, the way he conducted himself with his teammates on the road, so on and so forth, Timmy was able to see how it's done.
Timmy began with great character. It wasn't like this was a troubled child that was brought in or anything like that. But just to have that as a role model helped Timmy understand what it meant to have that responsibility, to show that kind of leadership once the team was turned over to him. So it was very significant for him.