Victor Wembanyama, others ready for Gregg Popovich to return for 29th season as Spurs coach

The rookie star said the “dynamic” between the players and the 75-year-old coach is “very good.”

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 17 Victor Wembanyama #1 and head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talk before a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Moody Center on March 17, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters before Sunday’s game he would need about a “week and a half” off before he would “be ready to go” again.

A few hours later after the Spurs’ 123-95 thrashing of Detroit in the season finale, Popovich gave an even stronger signal that he would return in the fall for his 29th season as the team’s head coach.

Asked if his week-and-a-half vacation would start as soon as he left the Frost Bank Center, the 75-year-old Hall of Famer said, “I was just joking. We’ve got work to do.”

Given the vigor he displayed in 2023-24, it comes as no surprise the NBA’s all-time winningest coach and five-time champion has no plans to retire.

The five-year, $80 million-plus contract Popovich signed last summer would allow him to earn out the deal even if he stepped down as coach. He also serves as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, so he would make the same salary just handling those duties.

But those close to him, including Golden State coach Steve Kerr, have said it would not surprise them to see him serve as coach until the current deal expires after the 2027-28 season.

“He was supposed to have retired five years ago, so why would we predict he is going to retire any time soon?” Kerr said. “He is still going strong and still doing a great job and loving his work, so I can see it.”

Popovich’s players echoed Kerr’s comments.

“I don’t really picture him walking away,” point guard Tre Jones said. “I don’t think he is there at all. He didn’t show any signs of it this year, for sure. He still has the same excitement every day – even more than I have seen in the past. He was real passionate the entire year. It didn’t drop off at all, especially this last third of the year. He was even more into it than he had been.”

The Spurs finished 22-60, going 11-12 after the end of their rodeo trip on Feb. 27.

“I think with the way we had been playing, offensively, defensively, all the little things he talks about that he wants us to do, we were starting to get it down,” Jones said. “He loves those things as a coach and I don’t see him stopping anytime soon.”

Spurs rookie star Victor Wembanyama said playing under Popovich has been “great.”

“He made it very clear day one he cares about his guys as people first,” the 20-year-old French phenom said. “I know there’s so many situations in basketball in the league, outside the league, the relationship between coaches and players is far from being perfect. But I’m just glad things are the way they are here because he’s there. He is there to poke on us sometimes or to correct us. But the way my teammates and I have responded to all the advice, it’s just been great and the dynamic is very good.”

Guard Devin Vassell said he appreciated how Popovich remained positive even during the midst of the team’s franchise-record 18-game losing streak.

“He was super encouraging through the good, the bad, the ugly,” Vassell said. “When we were on that losing streak, he was still encouraging us and that’s the type of stuff we need. And he always tells us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear, and I love him for that.”

Sochan still aims to play for Poland

Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan said he’s well on the road to recovery after undergoing left ankle surgery April 3 to repair an impingement that cut his season short.

“Surgery went well, smoothly,” he said. “So now it’s just working to get stronger and better.”

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The second-year pro said his rehab shouldn’t affect his offseason workout plans and preparations to play for Poland at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament July 2-7 in Spain.

“That’s one of the reasons why we went in and decided to get the surgery as soon as possible,” he said. “It only takes six, eight weeks to get back to shape, to top level. So we did that in mind of hopefully playing for Poland, being healthy for that, playing for the Olympics.”

Sochan’s mother is Polish.

“It’s always an honor,” he said of playing for the Polish national team. “There’s a different type of energy to it, so I’m excited. I’m going to give it my all and I really think we have a chance to make it to the Olympics, which would be cool.”

Vassell and forward Keldon Johnson also said they are recovering well after their seasons ended early due to foot injuries.

Collins injured in finale

Spurs center Zach Collins was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday after suffering a shoulder injury early in the second half.

With Wembanyama out due to right ankle injury management, Collins started and had 17 points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes before walking to the locker room in obvious pain after committing a defensive foul.

“He’s got a big bump on that shoulder, so hopefully it’s just rehab,” Popovich said.


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