As a huge NBA fan, I love San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for similar reasons that I love Tom Izzo. Pop is undeniably successful, entertaining albeit prickly with media and he is set in his ways.
Popovich has famously picked regular season games over the years to simply rest his aging star players, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, to help keep them fresh for the playoffs. This was never an issue until Popovich happened to do so Thursday night when the Spurs happened to be in the team's national T.V. game on TNT against the Miami Heat.
Commissioner David Stern was angered that Popovich would have the audacity to do a thing that isn't against the rules and something that Popovich has consistently done, and as Stern is wont to do, he arbitrarily made up a rule on the fly and fined the Spurs $250,000.
How is any of this Michigan State related, you may ask? Well, ESPN's Marc Stein notes that people rarely publicly embarrass Stern without retribution. Popovich happens to be a favorite to replace Mike Krzyzewski as coach of Team USA if Coach K steps down from the position. Angering Stern potentially ... uh ... complicates things for Popovich:
Or as conspiracy theorists would surely put it: Will the most public wedge ever driven between the commissioner and the famously stubborn coach in his league emerge as a factor that hurts Pop's chances of succeeding Mike Krzyzewski?
I so want to believe the GM who insisted to me Friday: "Absolutely, positively not. The league doesn't get in USA Basketball's way like it used to."
The final call on who coaches the national team, of course, belongs to USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo. As it has since 2005.
The league, though, does get to register its input, which means Stern will have a voice until his Feb. 1, 2014 retirement. It's thus not much of a stretch to imagine the league (re: Stern) lobbying USA Basketball to view this whole chaotic episode, no matter how far Stern overreached, as a prime example of Pop's long-perceived reluctance to be more of a partner with the league office than they've historically been.
If Popovich's chances were hurt by this faux, Stern-created scandal, that would obviously open the door for other candidates, like Izzo, who has expressed interest in the job should it open but also expressed his belief that they'll go with a pro coach next time.
Popovich, who has won four NBA championships, is the obvious choice, and despite his sometimes cynical demeanor, seems to really want the job. It would be a shame if he didn't get the chance over something as petty as this. But if it does play out that way, other pro candidates have decidedly lesser résumés than Popovich. Doc Rivers of the Celtics has won a title, George Karl has experience with USA Basketball and is a successful, longtime NBA coach and new Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni is a good coach and was on Krzyzewski's staff.
Izzo is a bigger name than all of those guys, though. If USA Basketball is looking for a coach to be the 'face' of the organization like Krzyzewski has been during his tenure, Izzo has undeniable star power to do it.