For years, starting with the purge that saw ex-San Antonio Spurs employees Danny Ferry, Avery Johnson, and Mike Brown all take on significant gigs with other teams in 2005, it's been more or less established that Gregg Popovich is acting as a Dean Smith-type in the pro ranks. Sprinkling the landscape with ex-players, coaches, and front offices executives on teams hoping to emulate San Antonio's success. The motives have always been clear, if not remarked upon, but now teams are just outright copping to it.
Witness Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins, as quoted by Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, in the wake of his team's hiring of former Spurs front office helper and scout Rob Hennigan, and former Spurs player and assistant coach Jacque Vaughn:
"Obviously," Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "when you talk about the San Antonio Spurs, there are not many better in terms of the number of championships that they've won."
Vaughn named Popovich as one of the three coaches who have influenced him most.
"The last five out of six years, I've been around a gentleman who just goes by the name of 'Pop,' " Vaughn said. "I've emulated him. I've taken notes. I've shared an office. He's been unbelievable to me to allow me to be around his brilliance, and for that, I thank him tremendously."
And while Martins — possibly the only person in this column we'll mention that hasn't worked for the Spurs at some point — might get some grief for indirectly aligning his team with a group that has won four championships and tied for the NBA's best record last season, we think this is the absolute perfect time to come clean about this.
The world is pointed elsewhere, looking at the Olympics. Orlando's handling of the ongoing Dwight Howard saga might be the NBA's top story at this point, so both Martins and Vaughn can sneak lines like those in there while reporters are readying their 400th re-asking of, "so, what's up with Dwight?"
Vaughn's fawning might make you a little uneasy, but Popovich (whom Tony Parker recently compared to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson) deserves it. Did the Spurs use lottery luck to earn the right to field David Robinson and Tim Duncan (sometimes at once) for the last 23 years? Sure. That was some luck. And they used smarts, intellect, hard work and creativity to fill in the other 90 percent of the job.
And it isn't as if this family tree isn't kicking anything less than a whole lot of tail, these days. The only exception could possibly be the work of Danny Ferry during his time in Cleveland, but as we've detailed before his era in Ohio was more or less signed off on in his first months on the job after making moves that seemed obvious and were celebrated at the time. Since Ferry has taken over in Atlanta, even as the Hawks rebuild on the fly, that team actually seems brimming with potential for the first time in ages.
There are no such guarantees with Hennigan, or Vaughn. The new Magic GM could turn out to be a washout, or he could be a formidably talented personnel boss that doesn't have luck and timing (witness the iffy offers out there for Howard) on his side, sealing his fate for years. We know nothing about Vaughn as a coach, only his attributes as an acutely intelligent player with a strong work ethic. None of this is any indication of future success, even with "San Antonio, 2004-2009" a few lines down on a resume. Even Mike Brown — the 2009 Coach of the Year who was handed the keys to the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar-led grand tourer last year — is one of the most criticized coaches in the league. At the very least the most scrutinized.
Vaughn won't have that same level of scrutiny, even if potential deals fall through and Howard actually decides to show up to follow through on the contract he so eagerly signed last March. Vaughn might get a few cross looks from Howard, but he'll have the understanding of the league as a whole due to the circumstances Howard has put the Magic in. Whether he's around this autumn, or not.
Do they have autumn in Orlando?
Hennigan won't be given as much leeway, as teams, fans, writers, and Howard lean on him for a decision. Still, that Spurs (and Oklahoma City Thunder, under former Spurs helper Sam Presti) pedigree has us way more chuffed about his potential turn in Florida than any other first-time GM. It might not work to hire someone because of the fraternity they were a part of in college, or your best friend's sister-in-law, but in this tiny club (with just 30 GM jobs and 30 coaching gigs to go around), having the stink of Popovich on you helps.
Credit the Magic for saying, on record, what we already knew.