By Bryan Chu - Express-News When Cavaliers coach Mike Brown needs advice, he turns to one person: Gregg Popovich.
“He's not even in my locker room,” said Brown, who was an assistant under Popovich from 2000-03. “I called him a couple times last year when I had a situation in the locker room that had the potential of blowing up.”
This season, the advice-seeking phone calls are growing for Popovich, now in his 13th season as the Spurs head coach, as his coaching and front-office genealogy continues to grow branches in the NBA.
The list includes Brown, Terry Porter and Vinny Del Negro as head coaches, and Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry as general managers.
Popovich did not want to be quoted for this article. He doesn't want the attention. Former players and assistant coaches, however, have all said Popovich has been influential in advancing their careers.
“He's probably got the biggest family tree of any coach out there (in the NBA),” said Phoenix's Kerr, who won two championships playing for Popovich. “A lot of people want to copy and match the Spurs' blueprint, and a lot of us are fortunate to be former Spurs so we get that respect.”
Added Porter, who is in his first season as the Suns coach: “He gets guys who understand the game and who make sacrifices. He's done a tremendous job educating guys, and now they've gone on to have key roles in other franchises.”
Custodian or vice president, marquee player or bench warmer, Popovich treats everyone equally and holds them accountable, a motto Brown, who was on the Spurs' coaching staff during the 2002-03 championship season, has followed.
As an assistant, Brown remembers a staff meeting before the trade deadline when Popovich asked each person in the room to assess a player. Even the assistant video coordinator got his turn.
“I thought, ‘What the heck? I couldn't talk at any meetings when I was in that kind of position,'” Brown said. “He'll have everyone a part of the deal. That's why many people fail at this level or don't last at this level of the organization. Pop has that unique trait.”
Brown added: “He's like the Pied Piper. He can lead me anywhere, and I'd be the first to follow.”
Porter received some advice from Popovich in his final season, which was with the Spurs.
“It's important believing in what you are doing, because there's going to be more non-believers than believers,” said Porter of what Popovich told him.
Added Chicago's Del Negro: “Pop has a tremendous conviction to play the game the right way. Making players understand this is your role, this is how things are going to work. Being around that environment was invaluable.”
Holding players accountable during the offseason, practice and on the defensive side have been things Avery Johnson, who played under Popovich for five seasons, implemented while he was coaching the Mavericks.
“Basically, he cusses you out the whole practice,” Johnson said, “and buys you dinner on the road the next week.”
It's that player-coach relationship that former Spur Brent Barry said he hopes he'll have if he decides to jump into the coaching ranks.
“I think he's the best coach (at knowing) when to push buttons, when to give you a hug,” Barry said. “He has the best pulse of any coach I've ever had.”
This season the Spurs were able to keep their heads above water and are now 11-8.
Kerr, 43, remembers the 1998-99 season when the Spurs limped to a 6-8 start.
“People were talking about firing him,” said Kerr of Popovich. “I remember he never wavered in what he believed in and never let on he felt pressure on the job. We caught fire and we went on to win championships, and the rest is history.”
Here is a look at some coaches and front-office men who worked under Gregg Popovich while he’s been the Spurs’ coach. Popovich took over as coach in Dec. 1996.
Danny Ferry, Cavaliers: Director of basketball operations 2003-05, player 2000-03
Steve Kerr, Suns: Player 1998-2001, 2002-03
Sam Presti, Thunder: Intern, basketball specialist, assistant director of scouting, director of player personnel and assistant general manager, 2000-07
Assistant general manager
Lance Blanks, Cavaliers: Scout, director of scouting, 2000-05
Terry Porter, Suns: Player 1999-2002
Mike Brown (right), Cavaliers: Assistant coach 2000-2003