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Double Duty Works Well for Popovich

May 19, 1999|MARK HEISLER

Gregg Popovich is coach and general manager of the hottest NBA team going, but back in February, when it started 6-8, there were cries for his job, or both of them.

"Well, that's never any fun," Popovich said Tuesday. "We were 6-8 and it was like, 'Get rid of the bum. When are you going to fire yourself?' That sort of thing.

"And you can look at it two ways. The way I choose to look at it is, ignore it. Because you can't control it. People make us goats or heroes, usually for the wrong reasons. Because there really are no goats and there are no heroes.

"But that's the way the business is, so if you have a brain at all, you ignore it and you go to practice the next day and you just keep working and you move along. Either you get better or you stay the same and then you're looking for a job. That's the deal."

Popovich knew the deal two seasons ago, when he fired Bob Hill and left the relative security of the front office for the high-wire life on the sideline.

"I didn't think this team was ever going to have a chance to do something special unless they gained a mental toughness, an edge, a swagger that comes from defense, knowing you can make stops at the end of the game," Popovich said.

"And I had a special relationship with some of the guys on the team, having known them for a while, like David [Robinson] and Avery [Johnson] and Sean [Elliott]. And I thought that maybe we'd have a chance to put that together. So I went ahead and did it.

"I questioned it all the time: 'How smart is this? What do you want to do both these things for? You've got to be an idiot.'

"But I saw an opportunity for this team to do something if I could get them to buy into that. And they have. Now I'm more of a facilitator. These guys are running with it and I don't have to preach it."


Mario Elie, on Tim Duncan, who averaged 19 points and 16 shots in the opening round against the Timberwolves but got 24 shots and 25 points against the Lakers in Game 1:

"With the last series, [Kevin] Garnett, Joe Smith, those guys are long, they're active. You know, Tim had a couple tough times, getting his shots off.

"But like you saw with Charles Barkley, he had his way [with the Laker power forwards]. I don't think J.R. Reid and Robert Horry can really hold Tim so we're running a lot more plays for Tim. I expect a big series from him.

"I keep telling him, 'Tim, if you want to go to the next level and be a main star in this league, this is prime time right now and you've got the mismatch and we need you to step your game up.'

"And he did in Game 1."

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