TOKYO – If you want to call Gregg Popovich the greatest coach in NBA history, go for it. But let’s be as blunt and straightforward as Popovich usually is: he stinks of Olympic basketball.
We’ve seen enough to tell now, haven’t we? What else do I need to know?
If you want to know where to put the blame for Team USA’s 83-76 loss to France – the first US Olympic loss in men’s basketball in 6,176 days – look no further than the guy with five NBA titles that has no idea since the time he was given the reins at USA Basketball.
Not knowing what he enjoys with this list. No idea with an attack that unlocks very little of what its players do well. Ignoring the expectations he assumed by following Mike Krzyzewski in this admittedly thankless job.
And this is the last point that annoys the most.
As Popovich tried to shake off that embarrassment as if it was a Wednesday night in January in Minnesota and not at the Olympics, he looked no different than every Power Five college football coach who tries to reassure their fans after losing. against a MAC school who, hey, these guys are scholars too.
“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised, you’re disappointed,” Popovich said. “I don’t understand the word surprise. It discredits the France team, so to speak, like we’re supposed to beat them by 30 or something. It’s a hell of a team. They have NBA players, other talented players playing in Europe who have been together for a long time. I think it’s a bit of pride if you think Americans are supposed to pull the ball out and win. You have to work for it, and in those 40 minutes they played better than us. “
Everyone understands that France has NBA level players, as do several teams in this tournament. Rudy Gobert is a star. Evan Fournier and Nic Batum are names you know. Nando de Colo has played a bit in the NBA and has been tremendous year after year in EuroLeague.
But it’s not even the slightest chauvinist or proud to look at this list, then look at the list of the United States, and know in a split second which one you would choose.
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Do you know who gets this? The players of the American team. After the game, a few journalists surprised Damian Lillard outside the locker room, and I asked him if it was fair that the fans back home were shocked by what they saw against France.
“I wouldn’t say it’s unfair,” Lillard said. “I mean, I think that’s exactly what the expectations are when you play for Team USA. I think we have a history of domination, maybe not always over people, but we have a history of winning. It’s not often that you see Team USA come out and lose especially at first.
“I think that’s why a lot of people are going to pretend it’s the end of the world, but our work as professionals and as a team representing our country at these Olympics, we have to do what is We can still accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we need to make sure we keep that in mind.
You know why Lillard isn’t afraid to admit that Team USA should win these games? Because it’s true.
USA Basketball has not won three consecutive Olympics and has dominated all international events by accident. It happened because there was great care in putting together these rosters and because there was a huge buy-in from the best American players and because Krzyzewski did enough not to ruin everything.
This idea that the world caught up with in the USA? Pfft. The world has been good for a long time. The France team is not locked in a gymnasium in Paris working on sets all year round while waiting to overthrow the Americans. These are professional players who have to come together in a short window for these tournaments just like our guys do.
And for the past 17 years, since the 2004 Athens debacle that forced USA Basketball to rethink everything it did, the US has been better than everyone else at it. At least until Popovich shows up with a bag full of excuses, saying ridiculous things like it’s okay that the United States lost to Nigeria in an exhibition match or that “these things happen. When you lose an eight-point lead late in the game.
It’s not supposed to happen in the United States in international competition. But that seems to be happening more than its fair share under Popovich, who was Larry Brown’s assistant in the 2004 disaster and oversaw a seventh-place finish at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and now a loss at the Games. Olympic after 19 consecutive victories. .
“Basketball is an international sport,” Popovich said. “There are very good teams all over the world. People shouldn’t be surprised that the France team or the Australia team or the Lithuania team – it doesn’t matter who it is – the talent gap is narrowing every year as there are more and more. more players all over the world, and you have to give the France team credit.
You can give the France squad credit while wondering why the USA squad wasted time early in this process by picking Kevin Love – a terrible decision that couldn’t be justified by his play over the past two years. years – to see him release halfway. through training camp. You may wonder why the United States, with a slew of terrific young playmakers who can execute a better half-court attack than the guys they chose, snubbed someone like Trae Young who clearly wanted to do it. part of the team. You may wonder why the spacing is so bad and the ball is not moving. You may wonder if Popovich is too stubborn and too far from his prime to be the right choice to lead this team.
At the end of the day, Team USA can shut everyone up by winning a gold medal, which is still within the realm of possibilities. This is the ultimate dashboard.
But as we can see with our own eyes, it won’t be easy. It may not be probable. And it sure won’t be because the alleged greatest coach in basketball history got something.
Popovich has had years to figure out the whole Team USA affair. We always wait for our first good day at the office.