Every season Gregg Popovich continues to coach, the louder the retirement rumors grow, with new events serving as fodder. In 2011, it was because the Big Three were “over the hill” and the game had passed Pop by. In 2014, the Spurs were champions, so Pop should go out on top. In 2016, Tim Duncan retired. In 2018, everything was falling apart, and the Big Three era was officially over. In 2021, Pop had achieved his goal of coaching Team USA to an Olympic gold medal, so what else was left for him to do? In 2022, the Spurs had traded their two best players and committed to a full rebuild, and all the losses would tarnish his legacy. (Exhausted yet?)
Now, it’s 2023, and the latest contribution to Pop’s retirement rumors is his upcoming entry into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In the past, many had contributed his constant refusal to accept an invitation to his desire to wait until he was retired, therefore logic indicates this must be the end since he be will be a Hall of Famer before 2023-24 season begins. However, it likely isn’t that cut-and-dry.
The more logical answer as to why Pop waited this long is he didn’t want to go before his players. He has never been the type to take credit above those on the court, so it would only be natural that he wanted them to be celebrated for the franchise’s accomplishments above him. Now that Tony Parker is the final member of the Big Three in, Pop is ready to accept his enshrinement as well.
Another rumor that has floated around came from the Spurs’ final game at the AT&T Center this season, when he look a “longer than usual” glance at their championship banners.
While attending the game Courtside Thursday, we watched Coach Gregg Popovich take a moment to look up at the banners for at least 6 seconds.— Mark Burnett (@SpursSixthMan) March 31, 2023
Coach Pop was definitely taking it all in Thursday. #GoSpursGo #porvida @JasonMinnix @JeffGSpursZone @spurs @Spurs_Nation pic.twitter.com/HqKCsZ0ZFG
This also could be simplified down to a more reasonable explanation: he simply knew he wouldn’t be back until next season so was taking one final glance for the season. Knowing the final regular season home game is truly the end of a season is new territory for Pop and the Spurs. The only other time since 1997 (before there were any banners) they didn’t make the postseason in any capacity was 2020, and that season was finished in the Bubble, so the Spurs had no way of knowing that March 10 against the Mavericks would be their final home game before the COVID 19 lockout. In the two seasons since, they have made the play-in game, which means there was still a chance to be back if they made the playoffs. It’s possible that Pop was just feeling the uniqueness of the moment.
Now that we’ve applied some reason as to why the latest rumors don’t necessarily mean Pop will retire, it’s time to look at some basketball reasons as to why he may not retire. While two of his former players and current NBA head coaches, Steve Kerr and Monty Williams, both refused to add any speculation to the topic in recent games against the Spurs, both stated that they know Pop still loves coaching the game of basketball and is enjoying the new challenge of coaching up and developing young players: something Pop himself has reiterated many times this season, “legacy” be darned.
Finally, at least one prominent NBA reporter has another reason why Pop is not ready to retire. Marc Stein, of marcstein.Substack.com and previously the New York Times and ESPN, recently reported that he expects Pop to be back on the bench next season.
“I expect Popovich to be back on the Spurs’ bench next season and believe even more strongly that he won’t make any firm decisions about his future until after the draft lottery in mid-May.”
“One suspects that Pop, after all, might have some interest in coaching Monsieur Wemby in the event that the Spurs, for the third time in franchise history, win the lottery.”
Monsieur Wemby, of course, would be Victor Wembanyama: the projected top overall pick in the upcoming draft, potential franchise cornerstone and possibly the most anticipated generational talent to hit the draft since LeBron James. Combine his French nationality with Pop’s love for working with international players, and Pop may not be able to pass up the opportunity to work with a player who has the potential to be one of the franchises top players of all time, and that’s saying something with the Spurs’ storied history.
Even if they don’t land the top overall pick, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few other extremely intriguing players for Pop to work with. If nothing else, he has also stated in the past that he doesn’t want to pass a rebuilding team to another coach and make them bear the responsibility of the many losses that comes with it, and if that is the case, his job isn’t done yet no matter who the Spurs land in the draft.
The bottom line is now is not the time to listen to retirement rumors about Coach Pop. They happen every year for one reason or another, and while common sense and science both indicate that with each passing season, we’re getting closer to his last, only Pop knows when that is, and he has otherwise shown no signs of being done.