Gregg Popovich’s Spurs Have Struggled Since He Became Anti-Trump
Gregg Popovich is fresh off the worst head coaching season of his career. The San Antonio Spurs finished 2020 with a .451 winning percentage and failed to make the postseason. It marked the first time in 23 years that the franchise missed the playoffs.
The only year in which Popovich ever finished with a worse winning percentage was 1996-97, and that was the season he took over a Spurs team that was without injured center David Robinson.
That same offseason Popovich drafted Tim Duncan. Two years later he would win his first NBA Championship. Over the next two decades, he went on to win four more.
Gregg Popovich’s Losing Coincides With Increased Political Talk
While it is obviously not the sole reason for his troubles, it is hard to ignore the fact that Popovich’s issues seem to coincide with his ramped up anti-Trump political talk.
Popovich has never been one to shy away from offering his opinions, but generally those opinions were limited to basketball. That changed in 2016.
After Donald Trump was elected president, Popovich began to talk about him almost as much as he talked about things that were hoops-related.
Prior to 2017, Popovich never finished with fewer than 50 wins in a fully played season. Over the next three years he won 47 games, 48 games and 32 games.
In 2017-18 and 2018-19, San Antonio got booted in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back campaigns.
This year, the team didn’t even make the playoffs.
Clearly this is not the trajectory either Popovich or the organization wants to be on.
Gregg Popovich Absolutely Hates Trump
Popovich hates President Trump. That much is clear. His comments on the POTUS don’t even attempt to hide his resentment.
After President Trump was elected, Popovich said he was “sick to his stomach” about the result. He even compared it to the fall of Rome.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said on one occasion.
“If Trump had a brain, even if it was 99 percent cynical, he would come out and say something to unify people. But he doesn’t care about bringing people together. Even now. That’s how deranged he is.
“It’s all about him. It’s all about what benefits him personally. It’s never about the greater good. And that’s all he’s ever been.”
On a different occasion, Popovich accused President Trump of purposely trying to mislead the nation.
“We take our eye off the ball, and he’s (Trump) great at it,” he said. “He’s great at it. He brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose.”
San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich on the second amendment, the current President and more important things than tonight’s basketball game. Don’t tell Pop to stick to sports: pic.twitter.com/vAVCDbv0ye
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 27, 2018
— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) September 25, 2017
Prior to becoming known as the NBA’s foremost liberal thought leader, Popovich limited his interactions with the media to snarling at reporters.
Now he is the go-to source for NBA political opinions.
Gregg Popovich Isn’t Just Struggling Because Of Politics
It would be naïve to assume that Popovich’s struggles are solely the byproduct of his newfound affinity for political commentary or his Trump-hating. There are other issues at play.
The players with whom he won the majority of his championships, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all retired.
Kawhi Leonard, who was supposed to be his superstar of the future and guide him to more championships, grew to dislike him and the organization over what he perceived to be mishandling of his injury.
Leonard would ultimately be traded to the Toronto Raptors, with whom he won a championship last year. This season he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Beyond those guys leaving, San Antonio has also never been much of a free agent destination. The Spurs’ stars tended to be homegrown and drafted, and they ran out of elite players who fit those categories.
Even still, one of the defining things in Popovich’s legacy was how he could win with anyone. The people who refer to him as the greatest coach of all time don’t think he earned that label by mooching off Duncan, Robinson, Parker, Ginobili and Leonard. He brought his own unique talents to the table, and those talents have been lacking over the last three years.
It almost feels like Popovich’s ramped up political talk is the byproduct of increased boredom with basketball. The man who lived and died with his team’s wins and losses now laughs them off.
When the Spurs failed to make the playoffs this year, Popovich mockingly called reports of it “fake news” – another shot at President Trump.
Popovich doesn’t seem to want to retire yet. And because of his legacy, the Spurs cannot force him out – no matter how bad the on-the-court product is getting.
But it would be nice to see Popovich refocus. At the top of his game, he was as great a coach the NBA has ever seen. When he is not ranting about President Trump or being overly political, he is a fascinating person.
Here is to hoping he returns to old form in 2020-21 and becomes the subject of conversation for his on-the-court success, not his off-the-court diatribes.