Gregg Popovich didn’t spend every waking hour of the Western Conference Semifinals watching videotape of games, poring over game plans or scribbling plays on note pads.
The most sophisticated of NBA head coaches found time to keep track of current events and pay attention to important discoveries.
Turns out he finds NASA’s recent discovery of 1,284 new planets in distant solar systems slightly more meaningful than the Spurs’ 4-2 elimination from the NBA’s post-season tournament that became reality with a 113-99 Game 6 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“(Winning the series) didn’t happen and that’s the way life goes,” Popovich told reporters in the press session that always follows the end of each Spurs season. “You know, NASA discovered all those habitable planets the other day. Did you guys know about that? What did they say? There were how many of them, 1,200 habitable planets?
“And then last night somebody lost a basketball game. Come on. Get over yourself.”
Make no mistake: Popovich feels the pain of Spurs fans who had hoped for a Game 6 win that would have extended the season. About 500 fans waited for hours to greet the team after it arrived at the general aviation terminal at San Antonio International Airport around 12:30 a.m. on Friday morning, showing their support in spite of their disappointment.
“I want to thank the fans for supporting us all year long,” Popovich said. “They were great. Nothing like it. That hurts as much as anything because you get to the airport last night and there’s all those people out there and you feel, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You just feel like you let everybody in the world down.”
Popovich called this year’s re-tooled Spurs roster a great group that worked hard and was fun to be around and declared that LaMarcus Aldridge, signed to a four-year, $84 million free agent contract last summer, had adapted to the Spurs faster than any first-year Spur.
“They made it enjoyable to come to work every day, and they gave everything they could and went as far as they could,” he said. “I’m really pleased with their effort and their ability to just persevere all year long and keep their eye on what we were trying to do. It’s just a group that was very special.”
The faults that presented themselves during the series with the Thunder – a surprising lack of production off the bench and a need for the league’s oldest roster to add more youth and athleticism – will dominate the organization’s summer agenda. Popovich said that he and General Manager R.C. Buford will put their heads together to plot a path forward but he understands the most important decisions about next season’s roster are beyond their control.
Veteran stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, whose contracts contain opt-out clauses, may choose to retire. For the last few years Popovich has talked of how jarring that will be for him and for Spurs fans.
“Each team has its own sort of personality, but at some point that changes when guys you’ve been with for a long time move on,” Popovich said. “And, as everybody’s going to talk all summer, ‘What’s Manu going to do? What’s Timmy going to do?’
“I really don’t know what they’re going to do. But when they do decide to move on somewhere between now and the next five years – that’s a little bit of a joke – It will feel a little different when you’re walking into the gym, for sure.”
Both Duncan and Ginobili said they will need time to decide if they want to return for at least one more season. Duncan said he will get to his decision “when I figure life out.”
Ginobili waxed philosophical about his 14 seasons in silver and black and acknowledged that his relationships with teammates, coaches and others in the organization are difficult to leave.
“I’m telling you, being part of this team I’m very proud of it, even if sometimes it doesn’t go our way. Of course, if I was miserable every game and I can’t stand the guys next to me, it would be an easy decision. It could have happened two years ago. I really appreciate that everybody — the team, front office, coaches — makes it different.”
Popovich doesn’t expect to consult with either player about their important decisions, though he may have been joking about that, too.
“I haven’t talked to Timmy in about 11 years and Manu stopped talking to me about three or four years ago,” he said. “So I doubt it highly. They’re just going to come in and say, ‘Pop, this is what I’m doing.’ Then, whatever they say, that’s what I’ll do.”
Popovich closed his press conference with a promise to Spurs fans.
“We’ll go back to work and just do what we do,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll win and sometimes we won’t. It’s not in stone that we’re supposed to win every year. But very thankful for their support and the way they follow these guys because we see it and we feel it and we hear it all the time.
“So thank you.”
Top image: San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich gives a post season interview with media at the Spurs’ practice facility in the Medical Center. Photo by Scott Ball.