The NBA Finals are set to begin on Thursday night, with the Golden State Warriors playing the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third year in a row. As you get ready for the big game, we thought you might want to hear what the coach of the winning team had to say about his past decisions, and whether he would ever change his ways.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never been shy about his love for the basketball team he coaches, and his affinity for the team’s star player, Kawhi Leonard. In an interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Popovich said he “would have begged, cried, done whatever I could to get Kevin Durant on the team.”It is not accurate to say that Gregg Popovich would give up his main body to bring Kevin Durant to the US national basketball team playing in Tokyo. A smaller copy is probably negotiable. Durant is a key player on the U.S. national team that is headed to the 2020 Olympics in late July. Popovich, an experienced international coach, will be head coach at the Olympics for the first time.
According to the contract, Durant is a veteran international. He played 39 games at the Olympics or FIBA World Championships, winning a gold medal each time. The Brooklyn Nets superstar not only won gold in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro four years later, but was also part of the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup U.S. team.
But Durant has not wavered in his commitment to the American program, and Popovich has not had to use radical means to convince him.
Many skeptics expected Kevin Durant to still be around in the 2020-21 NBA season. The 32-year-old is suffering from one of the worst injuries in basketball, a torn Achilles tendon. No one knew what to expect from Durant.
As a result, he began to look like Kevin Durant. In his first season with the Nets, he averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.3 blocks in 33.1 minutes per game. Durant also converted 53.7 percent of his shots, 45 percent of his three-pointers and 88.2 percent from the line (nearly equaling his career high of 88.3 percent).
But he missed more than half the season due to injuries that had nothing to do with the Achilles problem. Durant is out with hip and hamstring injuries and missed in COVID-19 minutes of time. In the playoffs, Durant was the only one of Brooklyn’s big three to emerge unscathed, and he had a huge burden on his shoulders. Durant averaged 34.3 points per game in the 12 postseason games, while playing an average of 40.4 minutes per night. He played all 53 minutes in the Nets’ lost extension in Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, none of this stopped him from going to Tokyo. This, of course, made life much easier for Gregg Popovich.
Kevin Durant, left, of the USA Basketball 2021 men’s team, listens to head coach Gregg Popovich explain the drill. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images
When Kevin Durant made the decision to play basketball for Team USA, general manager Jerry Colangelo told the New York Post he wasn’t surprised.
This man is a special man. I remember when he was a freshman at Texas he was considering running. I remember meeting him at the Final Four and inviting him to the US training camp. His eyes were as big as you can imagine. He said: I’ll be there.
Longtime San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was relieved to have the veteran Durant available since the Olympic team’s training camp in Las Vegas. But he would resort to extreme measures if necessary, according to the New York Post.
First, if he said no, I would beg him, I would cry, I would do anything to change his mind. It’s pretty obvious. But more importantly, the fact that he loves this game says a lot about him. He likes to play basketball. He likes to win. He loves the camaraderie.
He always wants to be there, as we all know. And that, ultimately, is his motivation. That’s what he likes to do. And lucky for all of us, that’s exactly what it is. So it is a testament to his character and his desire to be part of a team, to take on a challenge and to strive for success.
Besides Kevin Durant, only Draymond Green and Kevin Love have any Olympic experience. No doubt Popovich will build on Durant’s experience in Tokyo.
Although Gregg Popovich never coached Kevin Durant in the NBA, they did face each other during Durant’s career. With the Spurs, Popovich has 1,310 wins in nearly 25 seasons. He still has 170 playoff wins and five NBA titles. With 26 wins next season, he will pass Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332) to become the winningest coach in NBA history.
Although Popovich failed to make the playoffs the last two years, his teams have had a record 22 consecutive postseason appearances between 1998 and 2019. That number matches that of the Philadelphia 76ers (and their predecessors, the Syracuse Nationals) in the 1950-71 season.
However, Popovic’s first experience as a head coach at the international level could have gone better. Team USA finished seventh at the 2019 FIBA World Championship in China, the worst performance ever by an NBA player.
With Kevin Durant and a host of stars, Gregg Popovich hopes to follow his predecessor Mike Krzyzewski to the top of the medal table in Tokyo.
statistics provided by Basketball-Reference and FIBA.
COMPARED TO: No LeBron James? No problem, because USA Basketball has enough stars to recover from a FIBA World Cup loss
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