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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Hornets

A banner night sees Tim Duncan move to the top of the list for Spurs All-Time Acting Head Coach Winning Percentage.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I think that this season more than any other has really made me think about the passage of time. Maybe I’m getting older or maybe there’s just been way more games with the Spurs down double digits than I’m used to. Either way, more often than not I find myself thinking about the ebbs and flows of life and how the various pieces are moving around the old cosmic chessboard. Tim Duncan was just taken with the number one overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs yesterday. Today, Tim Duncan is now the acting head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. How did we get here?

An uncomfortable reality that is creeping up on us is that Gregg Popovich will no longer be stomping around on the sidelines in the very near future. That could be next year or it could be five years from now, but the point is that it’s closer to us than it is farther away. Judging by a bunch of the comments we see on this fair website it seems like that moment couldn’t come fast enough for some of you but, still, it’s pretty jarring to really think about what comes next. He has been with us for over two decades. He’s the only coach that most of us even remember and he’s the only one who, frankly, really even matters (my deepest apologies to the esteemed, legendary runs at the Spurs helm from Larry Brown, Jerry Tarkanian, and, uh, I guess...Cotton Fitzsimmons?).

We’re drifting into scary, uncharted waters. I don’t know what comes next and, if i’m being honest, I’m not exactly sure if I know what I want. Do we want someone cut from the same cloth as Popovich? Someone who has been brought up at his side and learned from him over the years? This is appealing for obvious reasons, but it also has its downsides. Would it create a situation where everything feels like the Diet version of Pop (heh) and it never quite works as well as it used to and then the Spurs just spend five or six years listlessly wandering through the wilderness trying to recapture some of the old magic?

What if they were to bring in someone from the outside? Let’s say, someone like a Bill Self or a Stan Van Gundy. Maybe this would be a way to inject fresh life into the team and usher all of us into a new era by drastically steering out of the old one. Maybe. It could also render the entire franchise unrecognizable and lead to the Spurs spending five or six years listlessly wandering through the wilderness trying to recapture the old magic. Gregg Popovich was (is) one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. No matter what happens next, it is just extremely likely that things are never going to be quite as good as we had it with, you know, perhaps the greatest NBA coach of all time. I’m trying not to harp too much on the wandering through the wilderness scenario, but it’s hard not to sense that the wilderness is just around the bend whether we like it or not.

Which brings us back to acting head coach Tim Duncan. Pretty weird, right? He’s been on the sideline all season and he even quietly took the reins when Pop was ejected a couple months ago, but it’s never fully registered to me that this whole coaching thing has been anything more than a lark for him. Something to keep him close to a sport and a team and a family the he has a huge amount of affection for. Tim as an assistant makes sense to me. Working with guys on the side, sharing little nuggets of wisdom, and essentially becoming the great role player he was always destined to be if he hadn’t been cursed with the unfortunate talent and ability to become one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

When you’re the best player on the team, you are sort of forced into a leadership role by default. That’s just how it works and Timmy has always taken up that mantle for the franchise in ways that have largely gone unseen by the general public. He’s behind the scenes. He’s leading by example. He’s showing everyone how much pride he takes in holding himself accountable and how the effort and work that you put into this game are more important than the talent. Tim has always embodied the idea that when you put in the work, the rest takes care of itself.

I never really wanted to drag Tim back into this world. I wanted him to ride off into the sunset and work on his cars and rest on his laurels. I just wanted him to be happy and I just know that the wilderness is going to be scary. It’s going to be weird. We’re going to see and feel a lot of things we haven’t felt in a long time. It may not be an easy time to be playing for (or cheering for) the Silver & Black and, like I said before, the odds are against things ever being as good again. I don’t know what comes next, but I know that seeing Tim’s familiar face on the sideline sure is comforting.

I think we might need him. I think we might need a shepherd. Whoever becomes the next head coach of the Spurs is probably not going to be one of the greatest head coaches of all time, but if they put in the hard work, the rest will take care of itself.

Who knows that better than Tim?


  • Please, please, please do not turn this into a referendum on whether or not Becky Hammond should’ve been given the acting head coach mantle for this game. Please don’t do this. I am a huge fan of Becky and I think she is great and I know that she is going to be an amazing head coach someday. That is one thousand percent not the question here. Do we really think that Gregg Popovich, of all people, is unaware of the significance it would hold to name her the acting head coach and, thus, naming her the first female head coach in the history of the league? You really think he hasn’t thought that one through? I just believe that there is a reason behind the way they have chosen to handle the “someone gets put in charge if I’m kicked out or sick” scenario and to pretend otherwise feels like a textbook case of making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • The basketball? Oh yea, the basketball. Big win for the boys! On a SEGABABA too! Congrats to everyone involved.
  • The rhyme or reason for why Dejounte Murray all of a sudden feels a surging rush of confidence and turns into a completely different player continues to elude me. He has had games recently where he looks every bit the guy that we’re always hoping he will be and then he just disappears sometimes. Maybe it’s to be expected in his first year back from a serious injury. It’s safe to assume that a significant amount of time will be spent this season figuring out how to coax the best version of DJ out on a more consistant basis.
  • Keldon Johnson? Keldon Johnson! What a fun little wrinkle he was to the whole operation. I’ve been slower than a lot of you to come around to this but with every passing game it just feels like the Spurs have to start playing the babies as much as possible. Maybe they’ll sink and maybe they’ll swim but, either way, it’s just so much fun to finally get a chance to see what these guys can do and, hey, sometimes they’re really good! I see no downsides to this.
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: We’ve already spilled a lot of ink on Timmy’s big night here so we don’t need to linger too long on the fashion, but if he’s going to be taking on an even more prominent leadership role then it’s important to make sure we don’t let our attention lapse on how he’s presenting himself to the world. I was worried that he was going to come out in his first acting head coach appearance in his tried and true “business” attire of black jacket over grey slacks and, wouldn’t you know it, that sly dog came out and inverted the dang thing one me. Was I mad? Well, I actually thought it really worked in the context of the night. I would’ve loved it if he maybe brought something a littler bolder, but that wasn’t really what the occasion called for. The black slacks are a strong base and to finish it with a nice, subtle grey glen check was a very powerful statement. The fundamentals are important and the devil is in the details.
San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images