Sports Take: Gregg Popovich, greatest coach in NBA history

Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has led the team for 26 years doing the best, even when circumstances were against him. Photo courtesy of AP

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

Gregg Popovich is the greatest head coach in NBA history. Popovich recently jumped to second place for all-time wins as a head coach. However, being two wins away from becoming the winningest coach of all time isn’t the only reason I believe he is the greatest head coach of all time.

In his 26 seasons as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich has won five championships, three Coach of the Year awards, had his teams competing for titles in three different decades, along with 22-consecutive playoff appearances, the most in NBA history. Even today, not being a contender hasn’t stopped Popovich from building a solid young core for the Spurs. There’s a saying in San Antonio: “Death, Taxes and Pop.”

Popovich is probably the best dynasty builder in terms of drafting, building for the future, keeping teams together and getting the absolute most out of every player in his roster from top to bottom. In 1996, the Spurs’ star player, center David Robinson, was injured all year and the Spurs struggled, so Popovich drafted power forward Tim Duncan. Duncan would be the centerpiece of a team that was a contender for 20 straight seasons. A few years later, Popovich drafted future Finals MVP guard Tony Parker as the 28th pick, and guard Manu Ginobili at 57th. Both of which were absolute steals in terms of draft positions and the value they brought.

As the team’s core got older, Popovich traded guard George Hill in order to draft another future Finals MVP in forward Kawhi Leonard. Drafting Leonard helped the Spurs once again seamlessly transition from one era to the next and remain contenders. If it wasn’t for the controversy with Leonard, the Spurs would likely still be contenders.

The three-time Coach of the Year has brought the most out of players and helped many exceed expectations. If it weren’t for his work with Ginobili and Parker, the league wouldn’t have as many European stars as it does today. He helped Leonard transform from a defensive specialist to one of the best players in the league. He picked current Spurs’ guard Dejounte Murray at 29th, and Murray is now an All-Star who is averaging near a triple-double.

Popovich’s longevity is unquestionable. Popovich had teams contending in the Michael Jordan era, the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal era, the Lebron James era, all the way up to the Kevin Durant and Golden State Warriors era. To be able to adapt through every single one of those vastly different time periods, where the game has changed so much, is a feat no other coach has achieved.

The best arguments for other coaches would be Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. I would argue that Popovich has built his legacy with less. Jackson and Riley were lucky enough to get hired into situations where the teams were already championship caliber. Jackson won his rings with two of the best duos in NBA history, from guard Michael Jordan and forward Scottie Pippen to guard Kobe Bryant and center Shaquille O’Neal. Riley won his rings with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s, who are widely known as one of the best teams in history.

Popovich has outdone almost every coach in league history, with lesser talent in a smaller market throughout some of the toughest eras of basketball. He is the greatest coach of all time.