San Antonio • Gregg Popovich was selected as the NBA’s Coach of the Year on Tuesday after leading the San Antonio Spurs to 50 wins and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in the lockout-shortened season.
Popovich also won the award in 2003 when San Antonio won its second of four championships, and he might be headed for a fifth ring if the Spurs keep this up. No longer able to simply lean on Tim Duncan and defense, Popovich has nonetheless molded another contender with a surprising supporting cast of rookies and former NBA no-names.
He whipped them into winners quickly. After a bumpy 12-9 start, the Spurs lost only seven more games the rest of the season.
"If you can draft David Robinson and follow that up with Tim Duncan, that’s a couple of decades of very, very possible success unless you just screw it up," Popovich said. "So it’s hard to take credit when circumstances have gone your way so consistently."
Popovich received 77 first-place votes. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was second (27), Indiana coach Frank Vogel was third (7) and Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was fourth (6). Boston’s Doc Rivers and Denver’s George Karl each received a vote.
The season loomed as one of Popovich’s toughest projects yet. Besides Duncan and Manu Ginobili growing another year older, the Spurs started the year with much of the same roster that fell in the first round to the up-and-coming Grizzlies last spring.
But Popovich, who is also team president, looked in unlikely places to keep San Antonio’s championship window from shutting just yet. Rookie forward Kawhi Leonard became a starter by midseason, as did swingman Danny Green.
"Pop has done a terrific job molding a mix of experience and inexperience," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said.
Popovich also steered the Spurs through what has typically been a death-knell for them in recent years: injuries to their Big Three. Ginobili missed nearly half the season after breaking his hand, yet San Antonio still kept winning without their playmaking guard.
Popovich was aggressive as ever in keeping his stars healthy. He willingly surrendered 11-game winning streaks twice to avoid wear and tear on Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker, keeping them on the bench or home altogether four times this year.
Duncan has called this Popovich’s best season between managing minutes and integrating the newcomers despite the condensed schedule.
"Timmy just wants to get minutes," Popovich said. "He’s just trying to ingratiate himself."
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