It has been quite the year for former assistant coaches and administrators of the San Antonio Spurs. In the NBA 2022 playoffs alone, nine general managers or head coaches could trace their roots back to the Alamo City. More specifically, those roots all stem from one source – the Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree.
The tree continued to branch out this summer with the Utah Jazz replacing Quin Snyder with former Spurs assistant Will Hardy. In the WNBA, longtime assistant coach Becky Hammon took over the Las Vegas Aces this spring and just led the franchise – the former San Antonio Stars – to the organization’s first championship this weekend.
While all of this success earns Popovich much-deserved recognition and celebration, it is a bittersweet time in San Antonio. The “Godfather of the NBA”, Popovich helped the Spurs to five NBA championships in 15 years. That stretch included four in an eight-year span from 1999 – 2007. His resume also includes 22 consecutive playoff appearances, which is tied for the NBA record. Of course, that streak ended in 2020, which feels much longer ago.
In that time since, the Milwaukee Bucks coached by Mike Budenholzer and the Golden State Warriors coached by Steve Kerr each won titles. The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns, coached by Ime Udoka and Monty Williams respectively, have made the Finals in losing efforts. Still, they’ve been there, where the Spurs haven’t been in nearly a decade. This leaves San Antonio in an awkward spot. When will they get their own coach on the rise?
Is There Any Fruit Left On the Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree?
For the Spurs to get a new head coach would mean the retirement of Popovich, as it is hard to see a scenario where the organization would fire the most winning-est coach in the history of the association. When that time does come, will there be a squabble over who sits on the silver and black throne? Will one of the assistants return home to lay their claim, or will the position simply slip into obscurity?
Updating just some of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree in 2022:
Steve Kerr – Won NBA title
Becky Hammon – WNBA Title in her 1st year
Ime Udoka – NBA Finals in his 1st year
Monty Williams – NBA COTY
Taylor Jenkins – COTY runner up, new contract
Will Hardy – New Jazz HC at age 34
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) September 19, 2022
With no heir apparent on the bench currently, the days after Popovich are concerning. A month away from the start of the 2022 NBA season, Brett Brown is back alongside “Pop”. He joins returning assistants Matt Nielsen, Darius Songaila, and Mitch Johnson. Of those named, only Brown has head coaching experience in the NBA, while Nielsen and Johnson have coached the Austin Spurs and Summer League squads respectively in recent years. Selling the fan base on any of the three as a coach in waiting would be a tough prospect.
This is not to rush Popovich out of the door. As his former assistant coaches continue to have success elsewhere, however, one has to wonder if there will be any left for San Antonio when all is said and done. In the meantime, Spurs fans will continue to be left pondering “what-ifs” until something is decided. Don’t hold your breath though.