Coach Pop answers your questions during this second edition of Coach Pop's Mailbag.
Location: Leeds, England
Question: How easy is it to mesh the two very different styles together as a coach?
Gregg Popovich: Well it’s something every team deals with; every player can’t be the same. What’s more important is to have a good mix on the floor. You can’t have all defenders or all three-point shooters to the detriment of everything else in the game, so you’re really looking for players that have all-around abilities, because the more abilities and skills one has, combined with a great mental approach and tenacity is what you’re trying to do. So you always assume that all players are different, and a basic part of the job is to put them together.
Question: Who is/was the easiest player you have ever coached?
GP: I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it who’s the easiest or the toughest. I think every player is a challenge in a different way, but as far as people are concerned, we’ve never had anybody that was really a problem as far as wanting to be coached, or wanting to be a team player, understanding what the priorities are. Some guys need more time than others to develop, but I don’t look at it as a problem, just a process.
Location: Missoula, MT
Question: What coaches in the NBA do you talk with regularly? Do you hang out with old staff members before or after games?
GP: Oh sure. There are a lot of great guys in the league. Certainly the people that you’ve worked with and for in the past are people you continue to have relationships with, and even some players. As much as we travel, you’re always running into players that used to play for you. That’s just part of the NBA family that makes it a lot of fun.
Location: Austin, TX
Question: As a player there are often pregame rituals and habits used to get mentally prepared for a game. As a coach, is there anything in particular you do to get your mindset right for a 48 minute game?
GP: The only thing I really do before the games, besides preparing specifically for the game, whether it’s film or scouting reports, or x’s and o’s is work out. That’s the only ritual that I have, other than basketball things. I always feel better when I work out before the game. [It usually consists of] a little bit of everything. Some aerobics, some stretching, some weightlifting, something that takes anxiety away and keeps me fresh.
Question: Of all the NBA championships that you have won, which run was the most difficult?
GP: I think ’05 against Detroit was the most difficult, because it was a really up-and-down situation where we’d beat them the first two games pretty good, then they destroyed us the next two games, and we had to come back from that. It did go seven games, but it was the most physical, and obviously lasted the longest, but it was the toughest of the four.
Location: New York
Question: You have managed to create a certain culture of professionalism, trust, and cohesiveness with the Spurs organization that is hard to emulate and will likely last after you retire. I'm curious to know which factors do you think are more important in maintaining this culture going forward: selecting the right players who will fit in terms of personality or having the right coaching staff?
GP: Well I think it’s really four things. It’s not just the coaches and the players; it starts with ownership. The ownership, the coaching staff, the management staff, and the players are all elements that have to mesh. The owner, in some ways, is the most important piece, because that person really sets the standard and tone for what’s going to be expected, and that person has to trust the management and coaching staff to do their job. In our case, we’ve been fortunate in that Peter Holt allows us to do our job. He’s not a micromanager, and we do what we’re paid to do. As far as the coaching staff goes, we try to amass the most qualified people we can find, and use a participatory approach where it doesn’t matter whose idea it is. It could be someone out of a film room, it could be me, it could be a scout, it doesn’t matter who it is. We’re looking for ideas and solid strategies, so as long as people feel comfortable in their own skins and don’t feel defensive. Your management staff and coaching staff are going to be important, and of course you want players who have humility, who are responsible to each other, who feel that about their teammates, and who understand that the team is way more important that any individual on the team. Those are the elements you’re trying to put together. It’s not always easy, but finding people—players, coaches, management people—that understand those things, is really the key.
Location: San Marcos, TX
Question: Tim Duncan is obviously a smart guy. His understanding of the game is a big part of why he's been able to adapt and remain consistent over the years. My question, can you see him coaching a basketball team once he retires?
GP: No, he’s too smart for that. He’s got a great feel for the game, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but he sees what it takes and how crazy it can be, and he’s way too intelligent to ever think about jumping into that realm.
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Question: When you have so many cultures represented in the locker room, do you have to do anything differently to get your message across?
GP: Not really. We think of being consistent, being what we call “common-denominator-like,” simplistic, rather than overly complicated, and being able to repeat things a lot really helps people get a comfort level, to understand what’s expected, what’s wanted. And the players that have been brought in have been great in terms of helping newcomers understand the system. So in many ways, the players that we’ve had here for awhile really help us coach and get the culture across to new people.
Location: Dallas, TX
Question: what is the best book you have recently read, and why?
GP: A book called My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. He’s a Turkish writer that won a Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. He’s a great writer, and his stories are just mesmerizing.