NBA Rumor: Gregg Popovich Retirement?

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Gregg Popovich to return one more season?

I’ve nonetheless believed for much of the season, like some in Spurs circles closer to the situation than me, that Pop will return for at least one more season, because he still loves this job and needs to be in the gym. These Spurs are the youngest team he’s had since was coaching Division III college ball. And Pop loves teaching so, so much … even more than he detests in-game visits to his bench from sideline reporters.

Gregg Popovich to coach one more season?

If you pressed me, I would (cautiously) stick with the idea that Popovich, who turned 73 in January, coaches the Spurs for at least one more season, knowing how much he still loves (and needs) to be in the gym. Yet I reserve the right to change that answer if Utah’s Quin Snyder becomes unexpectedly available. More and more, I hear Snyder’s name as a potential Pop successor that the Spurs would naturally relish. Snyder, of course, established himself in the NBA after his college years by coaching the Spurs’ G League team in Austin and is in Year 8 with a Jazz team trying to find a measure of playoff success befitting its consistently outstanding regular-season play under Snyder.

Manu Ginobili considered a potential replacement for Gregg Popovich

The most common heir apparents mentioned in league and coaching circles today: Will Hardy, the longtime San Antonio assistant now working under Ime Udoka in Boston; Brett Brown; and Manu Ginobili, who rejoined San Antonio last week as an advisor. Becky Hammon will and should be in the mix along with mystery candidates and perhaps other members of the Spurs tree. Ginobili’s appetite for coaching is unclear. Bill Self, head coach of Kansas, has faded out of the rumor mill.

After 25 seasons in charge, 22 trips to the playoffs and those five titles, Popovich will naturally leave his post how and whenever he chooses. He has earned that right. Chances are we won’t hear from him on any topic until training camp begins, but it’s fair to say — with less than 40 days until camps open leaguewide — that there is far more chatter circulating about the Spurs’ attempts to barge their way into the Ben Simmons trade sweepstakes than Pop’s future.

While the 70-year-old signed a three-year contract extension in April, he’s also widely known to be taking a year-by-year approach to this stage of his storied career. As of now, a source said Popovich has given no indication to the organization that he won’t be back next season. Yet whenever he steps away, whether it’s after he coaches Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics this summer or sometime thereafter, there’s one name that continues to come up from league sources as a possible replacement: Bill Self, the longtime Kansas coach and close friend of Spurs general manager R.C. Buford.

A quick note as a backdrop here: A source with knowledge of the Spurs’ thinking is quick to make it clear that this monumental choice will be, first and foremost, about what’s best for the organization and not based solely on personal relationships. Still, it’s worth monitoring and chronicling the deep ties here. What’s more, there has been one potentially significant development since Self found himself addressing these rumors when they first surfaced back in April: His program is under investigation for NCAA violations, and all of a sudden it’s fair to wonder if now might be the perfect time for him to take on a new challenge. Again, of course, that’s all depending on Pop and what he wants to do.

Robinson also said he was glad to hear that Gregg Popovich reportedly plans to return for a 24th season as the Spurs coach. Robinson said he remembers the uncertainty regarding Popovich’s future after his wife, Erin, died in April 2018. “I went to the funeral they had up at the Air Force Academy, and that’s tough, I don’t care who you are,” Robinson said. “Pop has always been a rock for this franchise and you almost never see him flinch. But I don’t care who you are, that’s a tough thing to go through, so you don’t know how people are going to react. But I think it’s been a great thing for him to coach. It’s been a new family for him. And I am happy that he is coming back. He is fantastic.”

At Staples Center last week, there was a pregame conversation among some of my fellow media members about whether Popovich is still enjoying himself. There was even a suggestion that he’s mellowed over the past few seasons. His once infamous in-game interviews have seemed a bit blander and straighter of late—but, mercifully, that doesn’t mean he’s lost his lovable edge entirely. After the Spurs fell to the Lakers later that evening, someone asked Popovich what made LeBron James so hard to stop in the fourth quarter.
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