By RAUL DOMINGUEZ Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Spurs suffered through an odd, erratic season filled with injuries, strife and drama before a second straight ouster from the playoffs in the first round.
Gregg Popovich enjoyed it so much he is coming back for a 24th season as coach in San Antonio.
Normally extremely private, Popovich said Monday he is negotiating a new deal with the Spurs after his current contract expired this season. There was some uncertainty surrounding his return, but the 70-year-old Popovich put an end to that with a quip or two.
“I’m currently in negotiations and could very well end up with either the Portofino Flyers or the Positano Pirates (or the Spurs),” Popovich said dryly. “I think it’s like one-third Positano, one-third Portofino and one-third San Antonio. So, we’ll see where I end up.”
There is little chance Popovich ends up anywhere but San Antonio, where he has enjoyed unprecedented success. His desire to return was apparent during an 18-minute news conference to wrap up a season that ended with a loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of their first-round series.
Popovich has1,245 wins, third-most in NBA history behind Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens, and is one of five coaches to win five NBA championships. He will coach USA Basketball in the FIBA World Cup in China this summer, and will coach the Americans in the Tokyo Olympics next summer should the team qualify.
The Spurs have reached the playoffs the last 22 seasons, a streak that ties for the longest in NBA history.
Many doubted the Spurs would continue that streak this season with all the turmoil and turnover.
A year ago, Kawhi Leonard played in only nine games while nursing a right thigh injury. Reportedly upset with how his rehabilitation was handled, Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio in the offseason and was sent to Toronto along with Danny Green in a trade for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl.
The Spurs also lost Manu Ginobili to retirement and Tony Parker left the team in free agency along with veteran Kyle Anderson.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” Popovich said. “I didn’t know how this group would respond to that kind of adversity, but they showed us a lot in continuing with the program and trying to do what we wanted them to do. So, that was very impressive to me.”
San Antonio had eight new players on its roster this season, the most in Popovich’s tenure. That turned out to be one of the highlights for the veteran coach.
“It was kind of one of the more enjoyable seasons because you got to see people develop,” Popovich said.
If that wasn’t enough to overcome, the Spurs also lost starting point guard Dejounte Murray to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and his replacement, Derrick White, missed the first month with a knee injury.
In one four-game stretch, the Spurs lost three games by 30-plus points; in Popovich’s first 1,758 regular-season games as coach, the Spurs had only lost by 30-plus five total times. Of course, they also won five straight games by 25-plus points for the first time under Popovich and ended up seventh in the Western Conference as DeRozan and veteran LaMarcus Aldridge helped carry the team’s young roster.
“I think that when we all reflect on the season, they achieved a lot more than a lot of people gave them credit for having the opportunity to achieve,” Popovich said.
San Antonio was able to reach the postseason while also developing young players like White, Poeltl and Bryn Forbes on the court and prepping rookies Lonnie Walker IV, Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks in the G League.
“It’s the beginning of a new culture for a new group,” Popovich said. “So, we’ll have a little bit of corporate knowledge going into next season and they’ll show that, I think.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports