We’re six weeks away from the 2020-2021 NBA season, and while the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching bench will return their full staff after other teams tried to recruit them away, the Austin Spurs’ bench will look quite familiar too, even after losing Coach Ahearn to the Grizzlies this summer.
This afternoon the Austin Spurs announced the promotion of Matt Nielsen from his assistant coach position to the big chair as the team’s head coach for the season. With the promotion, Nielsen becomes the seventh head coach in the program’s history, entering its 16th season.
A 6’10” former power-forward, Nielsen has been around the organization since 2014, first as a player development assistant and Summer League assistant, then last season as one of Blake Ahearn’s assistants in Austin. Coach Nielsen also has international coaching experience, having spent four seasons in his native country of Australia as an assistant with the Perth Wildcats of the NBL. Perth won three NBL titles in his time there.
If you were watching Luka Samanic last season during warmups, you’ve likely seen Coach Nielsen, as he was often working with the Spurs’ 19th overall selection in last year’s draft. With Keldon looking to be making the full time jump to the main club, Luka may get a little more attention in Austin should he split time between the team, and a head coach that understands his needs may be a great asset as his development continues.
Speaking on the connection between San Antonio and Austin, Coach Nielsen released a statement, saying,
“The connection between San Antonio and Austin is very strong, and we know it from the coaching side, but the players understand that, those who come through here. The culture is built around the same things, what we understand and try to help them develop on and off the court with the basketball side of things. When it talks about looking after yourself – body, recovery, all those kinds of things – and then just mindset.”
Luka’s mindset is one of the things I questioned going into this season when I raised the question last month – Is 2021 a Make-or-Break Year for Luka Samanic?
What Austin would look like this season became a little muddier in September, when the team lost general manager Landry Fields to the Atlanta Hawks, who hired him as assistant general manager of their main club. With the announcement of Nielsen’s promotion today came the news that the Austin’s assistant gm, Tyler Self, also is dropping the “assistant” from his title as he’s been promoted to fill the general manager role.
Self, a former standout at Kansas and son of Bill Self, is another veteran of the Spurs organization, first starting in San Antonio as a quality assurance assistant for a couple of season before being tapped as the assistant general manager last season. Speaking of Austin’s role on the development of the young roster of the Spurs, Self is excited to head up the process from Austin,
“San Antonio is so young right now. We have so many young, fun, interesting guys that are developing tremendously. Austin, we are so lucky to get access to those guys and work with San Antonio on a daily basis to help them develop and keep them on these paths and these trajectories that we want them to be on, and just to help them on and off the court. A lot of times these are really, really young guys stepping into a professional spotlight.”
When the 2020 NBA Draft takes place next week, the San Antonio Spurs currently have the 11th overall pick. If history serves as any example, it could be expected to see the player selected with that pick, and any other selection in the draft, will first start in Austin. With culture guys who have been around the development of the young players like Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Drew Eubanks and last year’s class of Keldon, Luka and Quinndary, Spurs fans should feel really good about the promotions from within.
For 20 years, the Spurs have been a model of consistency, which has won the organization titles and sent seemingly countless coaches and executives across the NBA as teams try to bottle their own piece of the Spurs Way. A lot of that is owed to development from within for the Spurs, and today marks another continuation of that history with the promotions of Tyler Self and Matt Nielsen. Congratulations!