State of the Spurs and USA Basketball reveals the reality of Gregg Popovich | Opinion

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No coach was going to reverse the current state of USA Basketball, and its slide towards Canadian status.

Not John Wooden. Not Bob Knight. Not Larry Brown. And not Gregg Popovich.

Pop has always been a nice coach, a good coach even, but his mythical state was just that. He was built by Tim Duncan.

(Don’t worry. Pop knows it.)

A few years ago I was crushed when I wrote that Rick Carlisle was the best coach in the NBA. Carlisle had the Mark Cuban factor to deal with, and yet he won an NBA title in a way that Pop never could.

Pop is great. Pop is a Hall of Famer. Pop is also a pro basketball coach. Give him the wrong lineup, and he indistinguishable from the rest.

Ex-Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson once said of the NBA, “The best teams usually win.”

Pop won a lot not because he was some genius, but because he had the best teams.

He no longer has a good team in San Antonio, and not even in the Olympics.

As a result, Coach Popovich is indistinguishable from the rest.

The Spurs no longer have Hall of Fame players like Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard. They’re just another team in the Western Conference.

Whether due to a second straight offseason cut short by COVID-19, injuries or fatigue of the NBA’s top American players, Team USA was built hastily, and as a result is the worst this country has sent to an Olympics since the pros were allowed in 1992.

How Team USA was built for this current edition of the Summer Olympics all but guaranteed not a loss — but losses. France’s win over the U.S. in the preliminary round is not a surprise, even if it is Team USA’s first defeat in the Olympics since 2004.

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon, who recently coached Team USA’s junior squad at the FIBA U19 World Cup, saw some of this coming.

“The Olympic team was supposed to be more of a two-year commitment because the guy that was with us for our camp, he was working on getting the roster together from the hotel parking lot in Fort Worth,” Dixon said in a recent phone interview.

“When we were doing our camp, the Olympic team didn’t even have a roster set. They were on the phone all day long trying to build the roster.”

Dixon’s team won its tournament, by defeating France, coincidentally, in the championship game.

“The rest of the world has caught up,” he said. “But we had to convince [his team] of that. We didn’t make it real public we lost our first game, a scrimmage to Australia. That helped us more than anything.”

COVID destroyed how Team USA was supposed to be built, but even in a non-COVID world, this is not 2000. Twenty years ago a collection of 12 Americans could win gold in any major international basketball tournament.

The 2004 Summer Olympics proved that, when Team USA was led by Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury to a disappointing bronze medal in Greece.

Its coach was Larry Brown, one of the best teachers the game has ever known. His teams were just out-played.

Those 2004 losses inspired the best American players — most notably Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and LeBron James, who was no longer a teenager as he was in Greece, to play.

Everyone involved took it more seriously, and Team USA had not lost an Olympic game before losing to France on Sunday.

But now it’s 2021, and there is zero fear, or awe, of playing Team USA. There are too many quality, and elite, NBA players from all over the world who now lead the rosters of their international teams.

Naming Gregg Popovich as the coach of this Team USA was fine. He’s doing what he can.

The Americans will be lucky to medal in this tournament, and the result will be on Pop’s resume, too. Just like the last two ugly seasons in San Antonio.

What he needed was a roster that was built the traditional way, not in a hurry over the phone from a hotel parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas, as it was a few months ago. What he needed was America’s best players, not JaVale McGee.

Pop needs players, like Tim Duncan, to make him look like the genius that he knows he never was.