Many observers recognize San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as the best coach in the NBA.
It’s a tag that comes when you have the most NBA championships of any active coach, five, and have won more than 1,000 games.
Well, good luck trying to get Popovich to promote himself. For all the accolades that come his way, Popovich isn’t going to publicly tout his accomplishments.
But ask Popovich about Kings coach George Karl, and the compliments are continuous.
“He’s a lifer; he’s a real coach,” Popovich said. “I found a good enough situation, and I was just smart enough to stay in it. He’s a real coach where he’s been to several different places and done well in every single one of them.”
That’s Karl’s plan for the Kings, who have missed the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. Karl is 2-2 as the Kings’ coach following a 107-96 loss to the Spurs on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
There’s a lot to fix with a team that has struggled as long as the Kings have, but Popovich believes Karl is a problem-solver.
“He’s kind of like Larry (Brown) in a way,” Popovich said. “He goes places and fixes them.”
The Kings played without their leading scorer and rebounder, DeMarcus Cousins, who was out with a sprained left ankle and left hip contusion.
But the loss was more about the Kings exhibiting some of their bad traits – poor shot selection, lack of passing and turnovers – than not having Cousins.
The Kings had eight turnovers in the fourth quarter.
It was also about the Spurs executing late and turning a tied game in the fourth quarter into a game in which San Antonio would coast late, as they have done a lot under Popovich.
Karl, like most, views Popovich as at the pinnacle of the coaching profession. The two are friends. Popovich was on Karl’s staff when he coached Team USA in 2002, and Karl cites Popovich’s encouragement for helping him overcome two bouts with cancer.
“I love coaching against him,” Karl said. “I think he’s the best coach in the NBA. I know Phil Jackson, and everybody’s going to put Phil probably above Pop, but I think Pop is the toughest guy I’ve coached against.”
Popovich said one of Karl’s strengths is “he understands matchups better than most” and how to put players in position to succeed.
Karl has been forced to do that with his starting point guard, Darren Collison, who’s set to have surgery on his strained hip flexor next week.
Popovich attributed Karl’s success to his ability to maximize the gifts of players. So it was no surprise to Popovich that the Kings traded for Andre Miller, one of Karl’s favorites players, last week.
“Andre, he might be 47; he might be older than Timmy (Duncan),” Popovich said. “But Andre has certain gifts that George appreciates.”
Even though the turnovers remain a problem, the Kings see progress.
“(Karl) wants to attack,” said Kings guard Ray McCallum. “He wants us to play fast, and we’re starting to get better with it. We’re still learning ... obviously we lost (Friday), but I still think we did some good things.”
Karl believes a fast tempo makes the game easier.
But that will take time.