They showed up to training camp still stinging from that defeat, and Popovich had to get to know a new-look coaching staff after losing longtime assistants Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer to head coaching jobs in Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Then he led the Spurs to a league-best 62-20 record, which gives them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. And he did it while deftly navigating a season filled with nagging injuries to several key players. Tim Duncan was the only starter to play in at least 70 games. No Spur averaged 30 minutes per game and Tony Parker led the team with a modest 16.7 points per game.
Despite all of that, the Spurs won at least 50 games for the 15th straight season and topped 60 for the fourth time in that span.
“Day after day, year after year, the energy that Pop provides our organization is truly unique,” Buford said.
The Spurs lead the Dallas Mavericks 1-0 in their best-of-seven series, with Game 2 on Wednesday night in San Antonio.
“He’s a gentleman,” Spurs swingman Marco Belinelli said. “Everybody knows that he’s the best coach in the league. So to say that is not really important. But maybe some people, they don’t know he’s really a great guy, a great gentleman. He really helps guys, helps each other. He wants to help everybody. Great person.”
When Miami topped San Antonio in that classic seven-game series, Popovich’s reaction resonated deeply within some members of the Heat organization.
Instead of showing his disappointment at the final buzzer, Popovich lingered on the court for a few minutes, sharing heartfelt embraces and words with Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, among others — even smiling as he chatted with them and congratulated them on winning the title. And when told of Popovich’s award Tuesday, James offered high praise to the Spurs’ coach.