Popovich Openly Discusses The Spurs Short and Long Term Strategy

This is an English translation from the French (L'Equipe) article that ran January 29th (credit to "Bruno" of the Spurs talk forum ( I cleaned this up a bit.

This is a serious, non-facetious, earnest side of Pop that he very rarely affords the press. My hunch is that Pop knows that it's not a good idea to piss off a French nation, who are proudly tracking their Frenchman's (Wembanyama's) progress, with one of his sarcastic, dismissive interviews. This is Wemby's national home. I'd certainly welcome seeing more of this Popovich in future press conferences.

"What convinced you to re-sign with Spurs for five more years?
There are personal reasons that I will keep for myself. But professionally, I take a lot of fun with these young people. They are all so talented, while being so raw. Some of them are just barely out from high school. A lot of them are now just going to university for one year before going pro. Their coaches don't have enough time to teach them discipline and fundamentals. This the most gratifying part of my work: be able to develop young people like Victor and be sure that they start their career on the right path. When we played the le every year, my job was radically different. It was a precision work: making the right decision at the right time, drawing the right system, doing the right solution, analyzing plays. It is now back to the teaching: shooting drills, video sessions to teach them good habits, rigor and consistency in their work ethic. Sometimes, it's fun to do, sometimes I'm going after one of them (laugh). There is however one sure thing, I'm happy with doing that.

Spurs' strategy draws a lot of comments from those who believe or wish that Spurs were already a top team. How do you react to theses crticism and what is your plan?
You know, people's opinions... They don't know, they don't understand. When they see us drafting someone like Victor, everybody know he is talented. But it's not just about talent. Michael Jordan's first championship arrived in his seventh year in the NBA. Nikola Jokic has just won his first ring and it took him eight years. We have the right to hope that things will go faster with Victor, but we can't skip steps. It takes time to shape a team. If it were that easy, you would have a different champion every year. These last twenty years, we find the same franchises at the top. Our cycle of success lasted a long time, it stretched over three decades. But there is a time when you have to start from scratch again. We are at that time.

Do you see any similarities between what you are doing and what OKC has done?
We do exactly the same thing. Sam (Presti) has been great but it took him some years to get to that point. They had many draft picks and are starting to get the benefits from them. We must have the same patience, pick the right players. We are in this process of adding pieces to the puzzle. Some of these pieces will stay forever with Victor. We will also have to use well all the draft picks we have accumulated these last years. But nothing should be rushed. The ones that things should move faster or that don't understand we aren't winning all games. It says more about them than about basketball.

Spurs are well under the salary cap, have 30 draft picks in the next seven years and have made more trades in the past two years (Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan) than during the previous twenty years. Is it that your plan?

It shows that our front office around Brian Wright and RC Buford has made a good job in financial and strategic terms. We are eager to get benefits from that. It's true we were lazy trade wise(laugh). Out program was in autopilot mode with Tony, Tim and Manu. We only did small tweaks. What is great with Victor is that he has an attitude and personality like Duncan. You can easily coach him, while often, young players think they know everything. He has some confidence on his abilities, but he is ready to learn and listen, deal with both the positive and the negative. Your best players must be treated like the other ones or else it can't work.

You said you were in "observation mode" with Wembanayama. What conclusions do you draw about him after half a season especially after moving him to the center spot?
He plays center sometimes, and a lot of people consider him a center because he is the tallest on the floor, but nowadays there is no longer traditional point guard or center. Everything is switchable. You will see sometimes Victor isolated on a wing, sometimes in the low block, sometimes in an axial pick and roll. He will be sometimes the ball handler or bring up the ball after a rebound. He does everything, which is exactly what I expect from him. He wants that too and has the skills to do so. This "observation time" was necessary. We didn't know him well enough. Highlights videos are not enough. It took twenty, thirty matches to see where he was comfortable and what was the obvious things to fix. He had to adapt to the roughness of the game, because he had a target on his back and everybody wanted to get physical with him. He had a tendency to dribble in crowded areas, because he's good ball handler, and had a lot of turnovers like that. He quickly understood that he had to dribble less to counter the speed and athleticism of the opponents. Sometimes he is close to the 3 point line on the defensive end, we try to work on ways to have him closer to the ring. He is also discovering his opponents. His career is just at a very early stage. We're working on his 3 point shot, shot selection and consistency. All of that will take time.

Could you have speed up the process by adding one or two veterans?

We decided not to do that for two reasons. First, to keep the powder dry, that is to say waiting before spending some money to keep our financial flexibility. Once the core will be set, it will be important to add some free agents. Add a vet this year won't have help us to win the championship. It would have been a waste of money and, more importantly, a waste of playing time that we must use to develop other players around Victor. Just look at Devin Vassell, he is becoming great and wasn't at that level when we got him. He gained confidence, basketball intelligence and has raised his defensive level. Adding a vet would have slowed down that process for him and other players. I want to have that core growing and that Victor grows with them."

This is fan-created content on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff at Pounding the Rock.