This summer, they’re teaming up — to coach with, and against, one another.
Spoelstra has accepted an invitation to join the USA Basketball coaching staff for its Olympic preparations in Las Vegas next month. The Miami Heat coach, who went head-to-head against Popovich and San Antonio in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals, will be involved coaching the U.S. select team — a group of players that will be brought in to practice and scrimmage against the Olympic roster.
“I really just want to be a part of the program,” Spoelstra said. “I’m always pushing myself to get better in the offseasons; I go visit people and all that stuff. This is going to be a basketball immersion. I mean, the dinners, the team meetings … for where I am right now in my career, I think this is the perfect thing for a summer of development.”
It’s Spoelstra’s first stint with USA Basketball. He and Popovich — the U.S. Olympic coach for the first time — have been talking about this opportunity for several months, though it wasn’t finalized until the past couple of weeks and after the Heat were eliminated from the NBA playoffs.
Spoelstra said he was thankful that the USA Basketball brain trust — including Popovich, men’s national team managing director Jerry Colangelo and men’s national team director Sean Ford — extended the invite.
“I’m really grateful to Pop, Jerry and Sean for this opportunity,” Spoelstra said.
Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with his current NBA team, taking over in San Antonio in 1996. Spoelstra has the second-longest active tenure, having just completed his 13th season as coach of the Heat.
“I really admire what he’s done, coming up through the ranks and how he’s matriculated through the different levels in the league and ended up in a position he’s in,” Popovich said this spring of Spoelstra, who started in the Heat video room under Pat Riley and has been in Miami ever since. “He’s worked so hard, done such a great job, and it’s just kind of thrilling to see somebody achieve that.”
Spoelstra is not going to the Tokyo Games. Popovich has three assistants; Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Villanova’s Jay Wright and former Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce.
USA Basketball completed its 12-man Olympic roster on Wednesday, though it is still possible that the names may change before the Tokyo Games begin.
The full select team roster is expected to be finalized in the coming days. USA Basketball coaches and staff arrive in Las Vegas in early July, and the first on-court practice is scheduled for July 6.