ALL BALL NEW JERSEY — Note to all NBA reporters: Gregg Popovich knows nothing about the team you cover, unless that team is the San Antonio Spurs.
Before the Spurs played the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Monday, one Knicks reporter asked Popovich what he thought of New York’s first few games.
The response: “Nothing. I don’t watch film on other people at this point in the season. I don’t even know what I’m doing yet, so it’s kind of a waste of time to watch other people. We’ve got enough work to figure out how we want to play and how we want to put it together. That’s the honest truth.”
When he says “at this point in the season,” he means “in the regular season.” Ask Popovich about the opponent in January or February and you’re likely to get a similar response.
Other NBA teams aren’t the only sports that Popovich doesn’t watch. The World Series ended in rather dramatic fashion on Sunday night, but Pop couldn’t be distracted from one of the few times he gets to have dinner in New York.
“If it’s nighttime, it’s dinner time,” Popovich said in response to a question about Mets pitcher Matt Harvey convincing manager Terry Collins to leave him in the game for the ninth inning of Game 5. “Dinner and wine. No baseball, no football. Sports are boring.”
That brought a few laughs from the media scrum.
“I’m serious,” Popovich continued. “Why would I want to watch a baseball game when I could go to dinner and relax with friends and enjoy.”
Of course, that transitioned into a great story about Manu Ginobili convincing Popovich that he should play at MSG on Monday, instead of sitting out the second game of a day-night back-to-back. And if you ask Popovich about his own players, he’ll usually give you good stuff. On Monday, he provided terrific quotes on integrating LaMarcus Aldridge and David West into the Spurs’ system, about the development of Kawhi Leonard, and about Danny Green being a decent defender, which you couldn’t have foreseen when the Spurs waived him back in 2010.
Still, though Popovich has helped turn Leonard into one of the best two-way players in the league, he may not have watched much of the forward before the Spurs acquired him in the 2011 Draft.
In one of those answers about Leonard’s development, Popovich said this:
“He was basically a big man in college. He didn’t play on the perimeter. When he came, he couldn’t shoot a three until Chip Engelland got a hold of him. So all of this is new to him as a perimeter player, defensively, offensively, his development with some of the moves he has that Chad Forcier works with him on. All of that has been an education for him.”
Asked about that after the game, this was Leonard’s response:
“I don’t think he’s seen me play a lot. I’ve always played on the wing. I don’t think a lot of people watched me play at San Diego State. Just because I averaged 10 rebounds, they thought I was a power forward. I always played on the wing and this is nothing new to me.”
So don’t ask Popovich about college basketball, either.
Oh yeah, there’s one more taboo topic with Popovich. His name is Phil Jackson.
Question: “How do you think Phil did in free agency? He didn’t get the star like LaMarcus, but he got a lot of other pieces…”
Popovich: “I can just top you right there. I don’t evaluate Phil Jackson.”
Question: “Or just how the Knicks did in free agency, and the pieces…”
Popovich: “That would be Phil.”