AL HAMNIK: Popovich can't worry about NBA teams loading up

2011-12-17T22:00:00Z 2011-12-19T00:21:27Z AL HAMNIK: Popovich can't worry about NBA teams loading upBy Al Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 17, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

The NBA's battle of musical chairs and players changing teams like their socks only confirms what we've known for a long time.

It's all about the money, not love for the game.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, strictly old-school, hates seeing the league's stars jump ship as rich owners lure them with bushels of money, but there's nothing the Merrillville High School graduate can do.

"I can only handle the Spurs. It's tough enough for me as I get older. I'm going to remember everybody's names this year. That's my goal," Popovich said jokingly.

Once-struggling franchises such as the Clippers, Heat, Knicks, Thunder, Nets and Grizzlies have loaded up with young, exciting talent and are now relevent.

"I don't really want to get involved in the middle of the brouhaha," Popovich said. "Since I don't control it and can do only what I do here, I do my best to not worry about it or think about it. Even if I didn't like it, I couldn't fix it.

"We have a certain way we've got to do things based on finances and our philosophy. That's how I spend my time. I'll think more about making my practice plan for tomorrow than I will the recent trades."

It's generally believed if the "big three" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker stay healthy, this could be Popovich's last chance for a fifth NBA title.

That will be difficult with a condensed 66-game season resulting from the lockout.

What makes Popovich so successful at his craft is the ability to pace his starters so they are rested for the playoffs. But for these aging Spurs, playing back-to-back-to-back games could take a toll.

"Everybody's got a similar schedule so there's no reason to moan and groan," Popovich said. "Even in a normal season, everybody has to watch certain players.

"This season, it's just going to be exaggerated."

Duncan is 35, Ginobili 33, Parker 29. Popovich once again will handle them like expensive crystal, given their history of various ailments.

"We've always tried to make sure we could extend their careers and keep 'em around as long as we possibly could by watching minutes," Popovich said.

"At this point, it will continue, maybe even more so."

With a shortened training camp, only two exhibition games and several revamped rosters, the first week of the regular season could be tough to watch.

"For us, that means starting a little less aggressively because I'm paranoid about an early injury," Popovich said.

"We were thrilled last year. We were very healthy, won 60 games and were excited about the playoffs — then watched Manu go down the first play of the last game. The injury got us at a pretty bad time."

Memphis then eliminated his Spurs in the first round.

"So I'm thinking about maybe whacking Manu the first week. Life's always fair, right? Then he won't get injured again the rest of the year," Popovich said.

The man hasn't lost his sense of humor.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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