Spurs Connection: Zach Guthrie
By Lenny Coltrane
The San Antonio Spurs not only pride themselves on developing players on the court, but they also strive to develop the careers of their front office staff off the court. Whether it’s a coach, a scout or a year-one intern, the Spurs take a genuine interest in every professional that comes through their organization. This series of features will explore former members of the Spurs basketball operations staff that have transitioned into other roles around the NBA.
For Zach Guthrie, working in basketball was never much of a choice, but rather something he always seemed destined to do. For anyone entering a new career there is always a period of transition, but for Guthrie, entering the world of professional basketball felt as natural as Tim Duncan draining a 15-footer off the glass.
Guthrie’s childhood was full of countless trips to see the Spurs take the court. In fact, his connection with the Silver and Black dates back to when the team called the HemisFair Arena home thanks to his father, Bruce Guthrie, who served as the Spurs vice president of marketing for more than two decades. The love Guthrie has for basketball today can be attributed to the example set by his father when he was an adolescent.
"I started going to Spurs games when I was an infant,” Guthrie said. “With my dad being here, it was fun witnessing all of the success the Spurs had. Just being around the game since I was little, I had no choice. My dad obviously had a great passion for the game and that really ignited my interest.”
Though Guthrie currently holds the position of manager of advanced scouting for the Orlando Magic, his journey began 1,128 miles northwest with San Antonio’s NBA Development League affiliate, the Austin Toros. While enrolled at the University of Texas, Guthrie landed an internship with the Toros and received invaluable training from some great basketball minds. It was the time he spent with the Toros that solidified Guthrie’s decision to make basketball his life’s passion.
Guthrie spent three productive years with the Toros, seeing his level of responsibility increase as the seasons went by. His responsibilities ranged from picking players up from the airport to having a voice in basketball decisions, to even serving as an assistant coach in his final season with the team. The NBA D-League, widely known as a place where aspiring professional basketball players can improve their skill sets, also serves as a catalyst in the careers of aspiring basketball operations personnel. Guthrie epitomized that notion, as his hand in developing D-League players returned two fold - he helped players accomplish their NBA dreams, while also accomplishing his own.
“I caught the bug when I was an intern in Austin,” Guthrie said. “I knew from then it was something I had a passion for. Venturing on my own and having the opportunity to work with Coach [Quin] Snyder and those guys in Austin, I gained an appreciation and a love for the game. I knew that I’d have a problem because it’s all that I would want to do with the rest of my life. That experience really shaped my beginnings before I came to the Spurs.”
When Guthrie saw his NBA dreams become a reality he took advantage, getting a unique chance to work under the tutelage of what are now four current head coaches in the NBA. The fundamentals and lessons Guthrie learned then still have a presence in the routine he practices today.
“My goal when I came to the Spurs was to be a sponge,” Guthrie said. “I had an unbelievable opportunity here. I learned directly under Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown, as well as Coach Vaughn, now the head coach here in Orlando. Obviously, Coach Popovich was a phenomenal teacher and an even better person. A lot of the basic tenants of what I do, I took from them and forged my own path.”
After a successful two-year stint with the Spurs, ascending to the role of assistant video coordinator, Guthrie received a call from someone who shared a similar background. Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan, who spent four years with the Spurs, climbing to the role of director of basketball operations from an intern position, wanted Guthrie to be a part of his staff and hired him in September of 2012.
Hennigan, who also hired Vaughn and knew him from their time together in San Antonio, wanted to model his basketball operations staff around the structure of the Spurs. When Guthrie was hired, he joined several other Magic staffers who have previous ties with the Spurs, including basketball operations manager George Rodman and assistant coach James Borrego.
“It’s nice to have a few familiar faces here,” Guthrie said. “There’s obviously the Spurs framework in place, the core beliefs, the culture and character. We tried to translate that to Orlando, but we also try and do things with our own style. But the core principles are stuff we gleaned from San Antonio, Coach Pop and R.C. and the foundation they laid.”
When the Magic traveled to the Alamo City to face off against the Spurs on March 8, Guthrie was consumed by emotions and memories of his San Antonio and Austin days. While the move to Orlando was necessary for his career and has benefitted him tremendously in his development, the San Antonio native still feels a sense of belonging when returning to the very place that initiated his love for basketball.
“It’s a little weird to come through the opposing team’s locker room,” Guthrie chuckled. “I was here as a fan when the AT&T Center opened. To be able to come up through here and work with the Spurs and spend two good years here and then come in as an opposing team, it’s a little odd but it’s fun.”
Guthrie has certainly experienced his share of success throughout his career, but the 25-year-old is far from satisfied. His career aspirations lie beyond the video room and scouting opposing teams. In fact, Guthrie’s ultimate career goal is to become an NBA coach.
“I would love to be a coach in this league someday,” Guthrie said. “Getting an opportunity to learn under Coach Borrego and Coach Vaughn is a fantastic opportunity and great for my development right now. Coaching is definitely what I want to do and it’s where my passion lies.”
A passion that began deep in the heart of Texas.