Is Popovich Better than the Zen Master?

Phil Jackson is viewed as the greatest basketball mind to ever coach at the professional basketball level.  He won 11 rings, and coached the team, that up until this year, had posted the best NBA record of all time. While there is no denying his talent as a coach, I believe that there is a better coach, who coached during the same era as Jackson. His name, Gregg Popovich. Popovich has coached at San Antonio for 19 years, and since taking the reigns there, has created the greatest dynasty basketball has seen since the Bill Russell era. Popovich has led the Spurs to 17 straight regular seasons of 50+ wins, 19 if  you include a lock-out season which they posted a 37-13 record, while winning 5 championships. This is something that Phil could not do even while coaching the likes of Kobe and the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. Even more impressive is that Popovich has managed to do it with an aging roster.


Each year concerns regarding the aging stars of the Spurs are brought up, and each year he extinguishes those fears by deploying a heavily regulated minutes program for these stars, while seeming to effortlessly win games. Jackson managed to coach two of the best players of all-time in their prime, something Popovich never had the luxury of doing. He has even managed to pull-off one of the biggest steals in draft night trades in trading George Hill for Kwahi Leonard. Leonard has transitioned this year from a lock-down defender into a two-way star. Much of this can be attributed to Popovich. Last year, Leonard shot under the league average from 3 at 35%. This year by utilizing the short corner 3, Leonard was able to increase it to 44% which was 3rd in the league among players who had over 250 three-point attempts. When Popovich is not drafting to complete his team, he is busy in signing a free agent who will take over as the cornerstone of the team after Tim Duncan retires. Last summer, he landed the biggest free agent signing of the off-season by luring LaMarcus Aldridge from the Blazers. More impressive than the signing, is convincing a player to forgo his prime years of stat stuffing the box scores to buy into Popovich’s minutes regulated seasons.  With all this said, I am not trying to undermine the greatness of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. He was an incredible coach during his time. I am merely attempting to show that with much less talent, Popovich was able to closely achieve what Jackson did in his time, all for the same city. Even if you don’t agree with him being the best coach of all time, you have to agree that, on a completely separate note, he is a reporter’s biggest nightmare.


Author: sportswille

Reformed ad agency guy. Sac Kings, PGA Tour, Pebble Beach, Aspen yielded fascination with sports business. Now teach at my alma mater, University of Texas Austin: Integrated Marketing, Social Media, Business and Law and Sports Audiences. 40 year streak of single digit handicap under severe pressure.

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