SAN ANTONIO – Since the NBA's regular season ended, 12 of the league's head coaches have lost their jobs. Half of those coaches went to the playoffs this season, including those who guided the Western Conference's third- (Denver Nuggets), fourth- (Los Angeles Clippers) and fifth-seeded (Memphis Grizzlies) teams.
The constant turnover has even this season's two most successful coaches – Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra and San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich – riled. On Friday, during a break in the NBA Finals, Popovich and Spoelstra both blasted the quickening pace of the league's coaching carousel.
"In some cases one might surmise that some owners think it's easier than it really is," Popovich said during a media conference call on Friday. "It's difficult to win an NBA game, let alone playoff game‑type situation. It's not that easy. You don't just go draft or make this trade or sign this free agent and then it gets done. It's very difficult. And when things don't happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even take it personally, I believe. Almost like a little bit of an embarrassment because they've been so successful in their own way and have a hard time understanding this business."
in his 17th season with the Spurs, Popovich is the longest-tenured active coach in major U.S. team professional sports. The four-time NBA champion is 12th on the NBA's all-time coaching victories list with 904.
One of his ingredients for success? Continuity.
"As you think about it, it seems like it would apply no matter what your business is," Popovich said. "If you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails, and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself, within itself, and the knowledge and understanding continues to grow, you have a pretty good understanding.
"You can deal with adversity and you cannot get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be. But the change, change, change, change, change thing doesn't really work. You can see that in a lot of organizations."
Spoelstra is surprisingly now the NBA's third-longest tenured coach behind Popovich and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. And Rivers is contemplating whether or not to return to the Celtics.
Spoelstra has coached the Heat to a 260-134 record over five seasons with three consecutive trips to the Finals and one title. It wasn't until the Heat won last season's championship under Spoelstra that the coaching speculation around him ended.
Spoelstra called the coaching turnover a "terrible state for the profession right now."
"We see it differently, the San Antonio organization and the Miami Heat organization," Spoelstra said. "[For] true success in the NBA, you must have consistency of culture. When you see that type of turnover over and over and over, it's impossible to create any kind of sustainable consistent culture. And we don't see it as a coincidence. We've had the same leadership in our organization now for 18 years. [Owner] Micky Arison took over, put [president] Pat [Riley] in charge. Even though we have had four different coaches, myself, Pat, Ronny [Rothstein] and Stan [Van Gundy], it still has been the same culture and relatively the same philosophy.
"San Antonio has been the same way for 15 years with Pop in charge. We don't see it as coincidence.
"I think it's really a shame for the profession of coaching that it's been so volatile. But I'm also very grateful that our organization doesn't behave in that manner."
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