Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to talk with the media between Games 1 and 2 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals. Here is a brief excerpt (from the San Antonio site, Spurs Nation):
Q. What gives a guy like Duncan or others the will to come back year after year?
Pop: I think it’s totally dependent on the character and quality of the player, the mindset. I can’t will that mindset. Sure, I’m a maniac and sure I’m gonna stick to it, because I’m just built that way. It could be right, could be wrong. I don’t know, but I’m not out there playing every day.
So find 10 or 12 guys that have that mindset. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win a championship. It doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s gonna happen. But to have that dedication and that fortitude to come back every year and try to be the best team you can be by playoff time, it takes character and toughness and that’s all embodied in the players that we have.
You watch guys, see how they react to practices, how they react to their teammates, see how important it is to them. All those things tell you what you’re gonna get. You can save yourself a lot of problems by trying to do that work early rather than get a guy in your program and then say, ‘We gotta get rid of this guy.’
Q. Did you ever think Tony Parker would develop into the true point guard he’s become?
Pop: When we first got him, I didn’t think he could throw the ball to you. He was a scorer. He was a flat-scorer. Almost on Day 3, we put a little linear thing on paper, and put his name at this end for scoring point. And at the very other end, we put John Stockton as an assist guy.
We said, ‘We want to put you right here in the middle. We don’t want to make you John Stockton, because you’re too good a scorer. But if we can get you into the middle — which is really difficult to do, we’re going to turn you into half and half here — we’re going to do it.’
Over time, I think I can honestly say he’s done that. There’s times I’ll say, ‘You missed so-and-so. And he’ll look at me like, ‘I scored.’ So we go through that. I couldn’t be more proud of the way he’s adjusted his game over the years and become a scoring point. And then like last game, he didn’t score a lot. But he scored enough. The assists were huge.
Q. Is that a good model for a guy like Russell Westbrook to follow?
Pop: I think that’s a great comparison. He was a scorer. He’s still a scorer because he’s such a dynamic player and so talented. He finds people way more than people give him credit for. There’s no doubt about that. Fans just see the dynamic way that he plays, but he’s perfectly willing to hit the open man.
Q. Can you envision the moment when Duncan walks away?
Pop: One of these days, it will be like the middle of the third quarter or something like that, and I’ll see him walking toward the exit. It will be like it just hit him, like, ‘I’m done.’ As soon as he does that, I’ll be 10 steps behind. Because I’m not stupid.
Q. Duncan has mentioned he can’t do some of the same things he used to. Is that due to the physical limitations of getting older, or what can’t he do anymore?
Pop: He’s actually added to his game. He wasn’t shooting jumpers when he came in. He had the bank shot from the wings, but he wasn’t at the elbows or the top of the key and that sort of thing. He needed to do that, because he wasn’t going to be as effective every night on the post, depending on who is guarding him. The knee has made it so he can’t pivot like he used to do, stop and start, which you need to do on the post. He’s a little limited there because of the leg more than anything. He’s smart enough to know he had to add the jumper. Good players do that. Michael (Jordan) did the same thing. He started to shoot the heck out of it.
Q: How do you go about blending a team of guys from so many different countries and cultures? What is that process like?
Pop: First I depend on the fact that bringing them, we believe they have character as such that they care about the group more than themselves as individual players. We hope we’re a leg up to start there. After that, I think it’s just a respect for letting them know you understand they’re from another place and getting in situations with the team camaraderie -wise where you’re looking at something different. You might do something like go to a museum, like the Holocaust Museum. Or you might have talks or films about Martin Luther King.
But there are also other people in the world, things that happened in France and Argentina or the old Yugoslavia. To have a variety of situations where people feel like they’re in a home where they’re appreciated by everybody. It helps build a group that wants to play with each other and play for each other. That’s what we talk about, playing for each other. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna win all the time, but at least you enjoy coming to practice and being with the group.