NBA

I'll take Pop over Phil any day

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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The NBA Finals are about to start and, undoubtedly, with them also will begin the onslaught of “San Antonio is underrated” talk. This is annoying for all kinds of reasons, namely the people complaining about the underrating do the rating and rating has absolutely zero to do with anything that matters in the Association.

The biggest problem is it is not true.

The Spurs are rated just fine. The mere fact that we yearly discuss how underrated the Spurs are is a sign they are not. Their problem is our inability to put them in their proper historical context. And by our, I mean all of y’all.

My fellow Texans and I absolutely understand what we have seen down South is dynastic greatness. The rest of y’all seem confused. And I am more convinced than ever that this breaks down along geographical lines. A week or so ago, as the West finals were wrapping up, I tweeted: “Woke up this am&realized: Gregg Popovich is a better coach than Phil Jackson. Can’t decide if column needed or apology 4being late 2party”.

The moral outrage this elicited was comical, and instructive.

The masses worship at the altar of The Zen Master and this clouds how we see everything, including the greatness in this San Antonio team about to take on the Miami Heat in the Finals. This is no small statement and I do not make it lightly. The resume that Pop has to go up against — 11 rings for Jackson, employing the triangle offense, somehow getting all of those big personalities to gel — is impressive. What Pop has done is better, though, because he has created greatness from less.

Tim Duncan is certainly to be credited for this greatness, the little Frenchman as well. We have heaped praise upon Ginobli and The Admiral. What makes this Spurs team dynastic, possibly the greatest of our generation — sorry, Lakers fans — is the man in charge.

Not only is Popovich a better coach than the former Bulls and Lakers coach, the acerbic little dictator is reaching epic status. If he adds another ring to his collection this season, against LeBron and The Cavs South, he surely cements himself as one of the best ever.

Beating LeBron as he’s playing right now is actually the perfect test of Pop. It also highlights the biggest difference between Pop and Phil. The Zen Master typically had whatever the current version of LeBron was — Jordan or Kobe — winning his championships while Pop built teams.

His teams had talent, of course. Duncan is one of those guys who always will be included in those top-50 NBA player deals. What Pop always has built are teams, not of the Dream Teams, All-Star variety but in the very old school, very boring version of the word.

It is completely lame to say this is a case of the sum being greater than the parts but this is the Spurs — mundane greatness. Pop built a dynasty around the mundanity of seeing the value in and utilizing role players, adapting what they do to who they have, and Duncan. Always Duncan.

The early championships came on his back, the offense and philosophy tailored to his unique gifts and talents. And the reason PopBall survives is because guys like The Admiral and Duncan were OK with it. If they didn’t like Pop, or his ways, he was gone.

 NBA draft

LEAD THE WAY

Phil and Red top our list of the 10 best coaches in NBA history.

But it works and because of that guys like Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Jacque Vaughn and a host of other otherwise ish players were vital contributors to title teams playing Pop-ball. Hell, Avery Johnson passed as a good starting point guard in San Antonio.

As reinvigorated as Duncan has been this season, a testament to his willingness to work even now and Pop’s ability to reach him even now, Duncan was not going to carry this offense. That role now falls on Parker.

The genius of Pop is and will forever be his ability to change on the fly, to rethink everything, to say “this thing works better through Parker” and have everybody buy in. It is why the Spurs are back in the Finals long after what many believed to be their expiration date.

They were thought to be too old and too slow two years ago when the Mavericks ended up representing the West in the Finals and stunning Miami, and whatever hope may have remained seemed to fizzle when they lost to a younger, faster, better OKC team in the West finals a year ago.

There will be those who say that why San Antonio is back is the injury to Russell Westbrook, ignoring the reality of the Spurs season. Why they are back is Pop. This is coaching, as opposed to a lot of Zen yoga BS that sounds really great in interviews. He’s especially impressive when compared to Pop, who runs a press conference like a North Korean dictator with only slightly more charm.

This is not to say Jackson is not a great coach, or overrated because of his personality and Jordan-Kobe rings. He is. And he is. Nor is this to say Pop is underrated because, again, what does that actually mean?

This is really an exercise in stating what should be obvious — Pop is a better coach than Phil. And if you do not believe me, watch these Finals, really watch them.

The Spurs are here.

And they came on the back of their coach.

Tagged: Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Tim Duncan

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