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Pop Goes the Weasel

By Michael Erler on January 26, 2007.

Game 44 Vs. Houston: Rockets 90, Spurs 85

Happy Wayne Gretzky’s birthday everybody. The best there ever was turned 46 today and I’m guessing he doesn’t care a whole hell of a lot about it since he’s trying to guide the middling Phoenix Coyotes (who?) to respectability. Contrary to popular belief, no, Manu is not my favorite athlete of all time. I don’t even know when his b-day is (it’s July something, right?). I’ve liked basketball way before Gino came along and I’ll continue to like it way after. The Great One on the other hand is pretty much solely responsible for that dozen year infatuation I had with hockey between 1992 and 2004. Well him and the EA video games on Sega Genesis, which were usually phenomenal. Unfortunately, I was only able to bear witness to the second half of Gretz’s career as I was too young, too dumb, and too Californian to appreciate his Edmonton dynasty days. Four cups in six years, five in eight years. That my friends is a real dynasty. Not this weak three in seven crap Spurs fans love to boast about.

Oh how lovely it must have been to watch a real dynasty.

But I’m not here to talk about Wayne Fucking Gretzky my peeps. Another head coach, presiding over a ragtag bunch a lot nearer and dearer to my heart (seriously I can name maybe two Coyotes) is the subject of today’s rant.

Of course I’m referring to one Gregg Popovich.

What has Pop done to get on my shit list? Well it’s a culmination of things, slowly building up over time. For one, it’s that superfluous “g” in his first name. I’ve always found it annoying and pretentious. But mainly my ire has been raised based on a series of events that started last May.

Apparently coach Pop has his acne scar riddled head so far up his own ass that he thinks that all the fault for the team’s struggles lie with the players themselves. Okay, technically he hasn’t come out and said those words, but after every loss it’s “the bench has to play better” or “we gotta play defense better” or “we need ___________ to step up.”

You know what you’ll never hear from Pop? “I coached like total ass tonight.”

And perhaps we should, just to keep it real every once in a while.

For example, Pop played Jacque Vaughn the other day. As I’ve explained before, in copious, exhaustive detail, Vaughn should never be on the court for us in a meaningful situation unless both Beno and Brent are injured. The level of horrific carnage Vaughn’s insertion brought into the game would be almost historic if it wasn’t for the fact that we had Nick Van Exel on the team last season.

In just five minutes of floor time Vaughn contributed mightily to turning a 54-52 lead into a 69-59 deficit, from which we never totally recovered. A 17-5 run amigos and I don’t think it was a coincidence. Not only was the offensive albatross that is Jacque Vaughn on the floor, but for most of the five minutes the four guys with him were Horry, Finley, Barry and Manu (sorry dude). Not just a small ball lineup, but the one “big” is a stiff 37 year old weenie! Fabulous! I can’t imagine why they worked out so poorly because it looked solid on paper, let me tell ya.

What’s so annoying about Pop’s repeated yo-yoing of Beno is that he even admitted in the offseason that he made a mistake last year. He admitted that if he had to do it all over again, they would never have signed Van Exel. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Signing Nick the Brick wasn’t the mistake. In fact, it kinda worked out for us because we needed him to sign Finley (it was NVE who convinced Fin to sign here, don’t forget) and Fin played rather well for us down the stretch. The mistake was in playing Van Excrement when we had a perfectly good reason not to sitting on the bench in Udrih, who was actually quite effective last year when he did play.

But now the coach needs a scapegoat for the team’s struggles because God knows we can’t single out “experienced veterans” Finley and Horry, so let’s just pick on the Slovenian guy in the # 14 jersey. In his eight minutes on the floor, the Spurs were outscored only 11-9. He had one assist and no turnovers. His only negative it seems was not hitting either of his two shots and *Newsflash* that’s hardly been a new development for anybody on the bench.

So apparently Pop hasn’t learned his lesson with Beno at all. I’m not about to defend Udrih’s play this year, I’m really not. By any conceivable measure, he’s regressed. But even at his worst, he’s a better option than Vaughn so it’s up to coach to find a way to find a way to get Beno to play better. Yelling at him a la Tony isn’t working and neither has benching him or threatening to trade him. Might I suggest some positive reinforcement? Or at the very least just surrounding him with better people? In 210 minutes where he’s shared the floor with Manu he’s been a + 69 and in 189 minutes with Duncan he’s been a + 59. Don’t go nuts on Beno when three of his four passing options are Fin, RoHo and Oberto, okay?

But what’s really fucking bothering me is Pop’s complete denial about this roster and his revisionist history about last year’s team. When last season ended Popovich was the guy defending Manu to anyone and everyone, calling him a “stud of the world” and saying that without him the Spurs would have two less championships and yadda yadda yadda.

But now, eight months later Pop is repeatedly throwing Ginobili under the bus every time the team has a nationally televised game on ESPN or TNT, feeding the announcers the same tired bull about not conceding anything this season to Dallas or Phoenix and that they were “one stupid foul” from beating Dallas last year.

One stupid foul huh? So the first 47:30 of the game didn’t matter? So being outrebounded by seven didn’t matter? Letting Dallas shoot 52% didn’t matter? Getting two whole points from the bench didn’t matter? I thought the whole foundation of this team was supposed to be defense and depth. Then how come ‘Sho, T-Rex and Fab were all DNPs and Horry got just nine minutes?

You played Van Exel the whole series, repeatedly put us at a defensive and rebounding disadvantage and your “genius coaching move” was to play the big three in Game 7 until they collectively dropped. Brilliant! Just because they all played heroically the last few games, it doesn’t excuse one iota that you put them in a horrible position by not giving them any help last year and an even worse situation this year. But because the big three played so well in coming back from a twenty point deficit, you get to toot your horn and say that your team “should have won last year” but for one stupid foul.

As if you had anything to do with it. They should have beaten us in five games, our team was so flawed. The sheer will of the big three (and possibly Fin) were all that kept us from getting embarrassed Pop, because tactically and personnel wise, you screwed us.

And it’s gotten even worse this year. Oberto and Elson haven’t shown they can outproduce the Nazr/Rasho combo, especially on defense. Horry and Fin are another year older and slower. Barry’s play will always be up and down and Beno’s confidence is tissue fragile. Don’t even get me started on Bruce Bowen. Pop’s failure to get any youth and athleticism in the offseason, especially at small forward, is killing this team. They’re too old and worn down to bring it for more than half a game and often the runs they do make aren’t enough to offset the ones they give up. But Pop, living in complete denial, continues to insist that this roster is good enough, in defiance of all the available evidence. I suppose he’s figuring the team just h
as to make the playoffs and then he’ll simply play the big three 45 minutes a night, with the trio of Barry, Finley and Bowen splitting the time at the other two spots. Good luck with that.

For now he’s content to have our flaws exposed against every good team and most of the poor ones as well, blissfully harrumphing away reality and spouting off that “this same group would have won last year if it wasn’t for Ginobili’s stupid foul.” And all those creepy old men would have gotten away with their capers if it wasn’t for that damn Scooby Doo and those meddling kids. Last year was last year so please quit using it as an excuse for this squad’s crappy play. You’re better than that Pop.

Or at least I thought you were.

It’s all Manu and Beno’s fault. I love smallball. Fetch me some wine!

Your 3 Stars…

3. Tony Parker – I can’t really think of anybody else and he led the guys in +/- for the game, so he must have done something else.

2. Brent Barry – 8 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds. Not too shabby. I’d rather he be the backup PG than Vaughn, in case I haven’t made this clear yet.

1. Tim Duncan – God what else can he do? Pop is very fucking lucky that Tim is too classy to ever spout off in the media about what a crummy job the front office has done of adding the proper supporting cast the past couple of years. He’s somehow supposed to be the team’s sole rebounder, sole shot blocker, sole inside scorer and the guy who initiates the whole offense (hence all the extra turnovers this year). And if he does all those things magnificently, the team has a chance to win IF the other guys knock down jumpers. Ridiculous.

Record: 30-14 Streak: L-1
Up Next: Vs. Memphis Grizzlies

One more pitiful pick me up against a patsy before embarking on the nine game rodeo road trip that will define this team for better or for worse. Gasol will miss this one with a bruised cervix I believe, so win day. Wheeee!

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