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Jerry West: “I’ve never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich”

Jun 18, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT

Jerry West is the trusted voice of experience in the NBA — he’s a Top 50 player, a former coach, the GM that built the Showtime Lakers, drafted Kobe Bryant, and a guy who since he came in as consultant and owner in Golden State has seen that team take off. (He did a better job in Memphis than he gets credit for, but he was not exactly perfect there.)

West has seen it all — and he thinks Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is as good as anyone he’s ever seen.

West was on ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd show Tuesday, part of his interview transcribed by Dan McCarney on the Express-News’ Spurs blog.

“I’ve never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich. He does less than more. But having said that, when he gets less, he develops it into something really good. They have a great development program down there.

“For a coach coming into this league, if they don’t hire people who are really competent, to take these young kids who haven’t made it somewhere but have talent and build a system they can prosper in, but more importantly to get these kids shoot the ball. When they got Kawhi Leonard, he was not a shooter. It tells you the significance of what they’ve done internally to improve their team.”

The point about system and development is huge. In a league where you are drafting 19 and 20 year olds, the ability of a staff to develop talent means a lot, it’s how you sustain success. Remove the Heat’s one-off building method out of the equation and look at the NBA’s Final Four — the Spurs, Pacers and Thunder all have drafted well and developed well. They have found talented guys not in the top handful in the draft and developed them well. They’ve built wisely. It’s the model for every small and mid-market team.

But nobody may every do it as well as Popovich.

[MORE: Popovich pokes fun at LeBron, Heat during Spurs’ championship parade]

  1. antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    I’d like to see him continue to develop talent and keep winning after Tim Duncan retires before calling him the greatest coach of all time. I don’t think he wants to expose himself like that though, and will probably retire when Duncan does, thus protecting his legacy.

    • gpatrick15 - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:45 PM

      As opposed to Erik Spoelstra, who did absolutely nothing with an in-his-prime Wade and probably goes out in a whimper once the big three leaves sooner or later. His “legacy” will be the same as you just belittled Poppovich for: winning with hall of farmers. The difference is, there’s enough info on Spo to know he couldn’t cut it without LeBron and company. Who has he developed? What system has he created to alleviate the strain on his superstars? Poppovich has done it all, and his coaching abilities go far beyond Tim Duncan falling in his lap. He’s developed many a cast off throughout his time. His system works, and he’s able to adapt the system to fit players rather than forcing players to fit him. And he just thoroughly out coached Spo.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:53 PM

        I didn’t say anything about Erik Spoelstra. He is not anywhere near the greatest coach of all-time conversation.

      • gpatrick15 - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:59 PM

        My point being, before you go disparaging all time greats, worry about your own coaches shortcomings.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:26 PM

        I worried about my own coaches shortcomings before I made that post, so I abided by your rules, so you shouldn’t have a problem.

      • josh4bv2014 - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:02 AM

        Spolestra is one of the only coaches to make the finals his first 4 years, yet I feel Popovich is clearly better, he is 2nd best in my lifetime behind Phil “11 time champ” Jackson

      • dstroi - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:46 AM

        @Josh4bv2014, You mean LBJ is one of the only coaches to make the finals his first 4 years? If the Heat did not aquire LBJ do you think Spoelstra would have made the finals his first 4 years? Or would he be fired or irrelevant like Mike Brown was when LBJ left Cleveland? Why are Heat fans on this thread bashing Gregg Popovich? If he is not in the discussion as one of the best coaches of all time then who is Anti? Popovich reminds me of Red Auerbach which in my opinion is the greatest coach of all time. By the way, tell me something guys, How many championships would Phil Jackson have without MJ, Pippen, Kobe and Shaq? Great coach no doubt but how many?

    • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:26 PM

      Well that is it then… if antistratfordian wants to wait longer than the LOGO to decide who is the best coach that he has seen then by all means…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:33 PM

        Well we already know that The Logo has personal issues with The Zen Master so when he talks about greatest coaches you have to understand that he’ll never give PJ a fair shake.

      • urodaddy07 - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:25 PM

        Tim Duncan was not the most important player on the team and he is not THE reason they won. He may have been some years ago but not now. I know he played well and he was an important part of their success, but to equate his contribution in SAS to Lebron’s relative contributionI in Miami is an insult to Lebron and Pop at the same time. Lebron does a lot of heavy lifting in Miami, and I think a part of that is bad coaching in not developing the other players on the roster and a minor part is a deficit of talent. In fact its hard to point to one player and say he was the most important on SAS. So I’m not sure why anti thinks that if Tim retires the Spurs will be a bad team. I think they won’t be as good, but I would bet they still win 50 games and that’s due to Pop’s coaching. I put it to you that if Pop and Spoelstra exchanged jobs Pop would still win a ring. No way Norris Cole and Chalmers become such peripheral players in Pop-coached team. These 2 guys have talent and I honestly feel that the vast majority of coaches in the NBA know nothing of developing talent. I’m not saying they will ever be great, but I think if Pop coached them, they would contribute a lot more than they did in this post-season.

        On the point of Phil Jackson; both LA and Chicago had established superstars before Jackson arrived, he managed the personalities. I can’t really say he made any of these players better. So Pop gets my vote as the best ever. Not all coaches would have understood how to manage an ageing Tim Duncan either

    • bucrightoff - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:00 PM

      Outside Duncan the Spurs have never had a pick inside the top 20 in the Popovich era (they traded for Leonard). And yet they have 50 wins in every season except the lockout year (where they had 37 in 50 which prorates to 62 wins in 82). I think that speaks pretty well to his development abilities. Duncan is great to be sure, but you of all people know one player isn’t good enough.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:41 PM

        50 wins. Duncan can win 50 games a season without Pop. LeBron could win 50 games with the Korean national team and Drake as the head coach.

        So I’m not that fascinated by the 50 win streak. If the Spurs only won 49 games in 2010 instead of 50 there would be no difference.

        But is this what people are touting as Pop’s greatest coaching accomplishment? Winning 50 games in 2010 instead of 49 thereby preserving this streak?

      • tuberippin - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:09 AM

        Hey anti, instead of playing The Idiot’s Guide to Devil’s Advocate, how about you explicate your personal opinion regarding who you think is the best coach you’ve ever seen, hmm? We’d all love to know, certainly.

    • BrownsTown - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:16 PM

      I clicked on your name wondering if it would give me insight into why you make the comments you make. Well, the PER data in your current post is interesting since it notes that Duncan had the 5th-highest PER in the series and 4th on his own team behind the likes of Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter (and Leonard). I just found that interesting.

    • spursfan4life - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:42 PM

      He has already told SA that he wants to continue coaching until it isn’t fun anymore. I think we will see many more years of Pop. Plus, he has more Coach of the Year awards to win!

      • antistratfordian - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:23 AM

        Well I do hope that he continues coaching after Duncan retires because I’d like to see what he does without his safety net.

        I’m sure everyone is curious about that.

    • azarkhan - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      Well, at least you never have a problem exposing how ignorant and petty you are. That’s good news for the rest of us, who can always count on having a good laugh at your expense.

    • msnyc10 - Jun 20, 2014 at 7:09 PM

      The only ‘great’ coach about to be exposed is Jackson who will flop in NY (hire a coach who has zero experience simply because he knows an offensive system that is completely ill-suited to the Knicks low-IQ, me-first players?), who had two teams with top 10-25 players of all time.

      RILEY is a great coach, much in the model of Pop he maximized his talent (John Starks as the #2 for a finals team? and don’t get me wrong I LOVED Starks) and fit them into a culture of winning.

      Pop’s legacy is soundly intact and always will be. If you think many coaches could have taken a team that lost last year like they did and come back and had the year they did and TROUNCED Miami you are sorely mistaken. Check back on this board in one year if you want to see what I mean.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 20, 2014 at 7:35 PM

        Pop has only won with a top 10 all-time player – who also happens to be one of the most coachable and pliable players in history. The best teammate and player a coach could ask for? Some say.

        Phil had to constantly deal with malcontents who were often fighting against him. That even applied to Scottie Pippen. He still got it done though to the tune of 11 rings.

        Jackson’s job in 2009 and 2010 is probably his best work. To win with a team built around such a selfish player like Kobe Bryant… that is one coaching job to rule them all. Pop would quit before letting his star player get away with openly defying him as has happened so many times with Jackson. Pop isn’t zen enough to deal with that.

  2. jayquintana - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    “Thanks, Jerry.”
    — Phil Jackson

    • JHathwell - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      it should be noted that there is some animosity between jackson and West, specifically on West’s end. That could be affecting his judgement here.

      • msnyc10 - Jun 20, 2014 at 8:43 PM

        Well THAT should tell you something right there.

  3. papichulo55 - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:38 PM


  4. dls612 - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:46 PM

    Crazy as it may sound he was the more reason I didn’t want the Heat to face the Spurs In the finals. If it was any other team from the west we’re talking a three peat. Talent alone won’t win title. He’s an awesome coach.

  5. the8man - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    Five titles. Same team. No MJ. Yeah, this guy is good. Really good. Congrats San Antonio!

    • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:24 PM

      No MJ, but it’s harder to win a title without a dominant big like Tim Duncan, who is no slouch.

      • unfrozencavemanlawyer2 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:20 PM

        Talent is about 85% of the equation. Coaching the other 15%. Jackson inherited MJ and Pippen and Horace Grant in their primes and then took over the Lake Show when Shaq and Kobe hit their primes. Pop deserves more credit for this championship because Duncan- while still good- is way past his prime. However one wants to slice it- he has 5 titles over 15 years. He’s great. I won’t split hairs over where he ranks on the list of best coaches. He might be the best- he might not. He’s great- who cares about the rest.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:54 PM

        Winning with MJ was not a piece of cake. MJ went through several coaches because nobody could get him to play a winning style of basketball. Doug Collins was actually afraid to ask him to stop shooting so much. Jackson was the first to try and he succeeded. You can’t discount that. PJ also worked that same magic later with Kobe.

        But, in general, I’d say (and conventional wisdom would say) that the easiest path to a title is to build around a dominant big like Kareem, Shaq or Duncan.

        And you may say Duncan is way past his prime now – but he was easily the best big in the Finals by a very large margin.

      • msnyc10 - Jun 20, 2014 at 7:17 PM

        I’d put the talent/coaching ratio far closer to 50/50. Look at what Riley did with the 90s Knicks. Ewing was a very good center but in an era of great ones (Hakeem, Shaq,etc.) and who did he have playing with him? John Starks, Charles Oakle, Anthony Mason, Doc Rivers? THAT was a coaching job.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 20, 2014 at 7:40 PM

        But, again, if you have a hall of fame center you’re already ahead of the competition.

        Chicago (Scottie and MJ) had to expend a lot of energy hustling on defense just to make up the defensive difference of Ewing’s presence, to prevent the Knicks from beating them.

        So the Bulls had two perimeter hall of famers, and New York only had one hall of fame big – and yet at times those two teams were about even. One shot here or there, and New York would’ve advanced.

        That’s the advantage a hall of fame center gives you.

      • msnyc10 - Jun 20, 2014 at 8:56 PM

        Though your hall of fame center argument rings false Jackson had a Hall of Fame center in Los Angeles with a Hall of Fame shooting guard. How DID he manage to guide them to a Championship? Here’s what it comes down to; give the Spurs/Pop the 90s Bulls and 2000s Lakers and they win still. Give Jackson the Spurs Teams and he probably doesn’t win 1. Duncan may be a great but he is not a dominant great (neither is Ginobil or Parker). Jackson has no idea how to either build w/o dominant players or win with them. See it the Knicks win anything before 2020. See if Jackson tries to build fitting pieces or bring in big guns. If he was the genius you think he was he’d have told Melo to take a walk, held on to Hardaway and Shumpert, with Prigioni to mentor them and started finding draft picks and players to fit into his triangle offense. The very fact he is trying to force that onto the Knicks who don’t have the talent or basketball IQ to run it should tell you something. He’s living in the past. Fisher is a joke of a choice. The Knicks needed NOTHING if not a firm experienced coach and he botched that move already.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 20, 2014 at 9:03 PM

        Well no one is saying it was difficult to win with Shaq. That was probably the least difficult thing Jackson has ever had to do.

        It’s kind of like winning with Duncan.

        And Tim Duncan was absolutely “dominant great.” He wouldn’t be called the greatest power forward in history if he wasn’t. What player is the greatest at their position if they were never dominant? Ridiculous.

  6. addict2sport - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:10 PM

    Technically he traded for Kobe.

  7. lphboston - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    Uh, Jerry…how about the guy who beat you every year in the 1960s? The coach you could never beat? Red something or other?

    • macka4 - Jun 20, 2014 at 12:18 AM

      In some order, Red and Pop are the 2 best ever, I believe.

  8. timmons94 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:47 PM

    The eastern conference is a joke. D wade is done. Bosh isn’t a super star. Lebron is the best but the rest of their team is garbage. Lebrun would be insane to go back to Miami.

    • reesesteel23 - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Lol you said the East is a joke and only provided examples from 1 team.

  9. robigd - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:50 PM

    Anyone know of a human sized commode we can flush anti down?

  10. davidly - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    There is a reason a certain someone doesn’t post Pop’s record without Duncan in the lineup. You know, a certain someone who would be all over b-ball reference stats if it supported one of his pet theories.

    • bougin89 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      You don’t think he’s s l i g h t l y biased, do you?

  11. tuberippin - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:06 AM

    Jerry West was GM of the Hornets in 1996 when they drafted Kobe??

  12. rajbais - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    I love how no one is saying that this might be a shot at Phil Jackson, a man whom West is nowhere near friends with.

    I like Pop, but I think he’s a little overrated because he didn’t really develop the foreign players.

    Personally, I think Phil Jackson is better because of his ring totals, getting MJ to be more unselfish, and beating Pop’s Spurs is impressive. I also think that Pop never had those coaching jobs where he got so much out of little talent. He has foreign Olympians (most of whom can play in the NBA) and all it does is take nearly one year for foreign players to be decent in the NBA. Go ask dirk, Kukoc, Yao Ming, galinari, the late drazen petrovic, vlade divac, peja, turkoglu before Toronto, the Gasol brothers, Diaw before he got fat, etc.

    Stan Van Gundy did one of the best coaching jobs ever with what he did in Miami in 2004. They won 23 games in 2003 and were a top 4 seed in 2004. Wade was a PG and Rafer Alston had one of his most efficient years with 11+ ppg off the bench.

  13. raiderfool - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Jerry is delusional, Pop is good not great, I can’t see him being the coach of the Lakers with shaq and kobe and winning like Phil did, he can’t sell this to those super stars, he does it to a small city like SA,who are like the patriots of the NBA..He has NO egos on that team,try doing this the the brand LA lakers..LOL..Jerry I love u but you’re way off on this!!..Hell jerry you lost 6 times to the best coach in Red!!!

    • badge3832 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:16 PM

      Jerry West lost 4 times to Auerbach-coached teams. ’62,’63,’65,’66

    • msnyc10 - Jun 20, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      It’s not an accident that Pop didn’t have a Shaq or Kobe on his team AND had no egos. And I think you have the ‘NO ego’ think backwards; he doesn’t ‘get’ players with no egos, he gets players to play without them.

  14. raiderfool - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Jerry, pop can’t win back to back NBA titles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!..The true sign of being great!!!

  15. jacobk621 - Jun 19, 2014 at 4:37 PM

    I really hope that PoP continues as the spurs coach but only if he agrees to do those infamous in-game interviews !!!!

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