In the opening moments of the US National Team’s first game at the FIBA World Cup, the Americans looked like a team in over their heads. The pace was frenetic from the opening tip. The game plan? Go all in. There was no way to slow things down, which would have been ideal given the size of the opponent they were matched up against.
The first game of the 2019 FIBA World Cup is in the books, and Team USA was humiliated. The Americans were ripe for the picking against a vastly inferior Australian team that was playing with a full roster of NBA talent. Now, some of the players on the team will have their heads on a chopping block if USA Basketball fails to find a coaching replacement for their coach.
The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs were looking to start their first-ever campaign at the 2023 Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a victory over the U.S. national team, but instead are set to lose to the new-look version of the team in a 95-77 loss in their exhibition opener at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
To avoid losing four of five games in significant international tournaments for the second time, Team USA must defeat Iran on July 28. There are already indications of split between players and Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich after a disappointing defeat to start the Tokyo Olympics.
The 2002 FIBA World Championships and the 2004 Olympics in Athens were the worst years for men’s basketball in the United States. With defeats to Argentina, the former Yugoslavia, and Spain in its last four games, Team USA finished sixth in the World Championships, coached by George Karl. After that, the Larry Brown-led 2004 Olympic team was blasted out by Puerto Rico.
That is the only time the United States has ever lost four games in a row. However, Gregg Popovich’s team is on the verge of losing following an 83–76 defeat to France on July 25, in which the French erased a seven-point lead with a 16–2 run in the last 3:41 of the game. Is there unrest in paradise, or at the very least in Tokyo? According to reports, there is.
Gregg Popovich’s first season as Team USA’s head coach was a disaster
Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach of Duke University, departed the scene in 2016 after earning his third straight gold medal as the head coach of USA Basketball. Coach K was replaced by Gregg Popovich, who had not been with USA Basketball since 2004.
Yes, Popovich has worked with Team USA before, as an assistant coach to Karl in Indianapolis for the 2002 World Championships and as an assistant coach to Brown in Athens two years later. Of course, with that type of international experience, he was a no-brainer for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo in 2015.
Popovich traveled to China in 2019 for the FIBA World Cup, reportedly saying, “Hold my drink,” after being on the bench for the poorest finish in the history of the USA Basketball men’s program. Team USA topped their group with a 5–0 record after surviving overtime against Turkey. However, once in the elimination bracket, things quickly went awry.
Any medal aspirations were dashed with a quarterfinal defeat to France. With a defeat to Serbia, Team USA surpassed the legendary 2002 squad for the worst-ever result in international play. But, hey, Team USA did win the seventh place match against Poland, so there’s something.
The past two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, where he has been the head coach since December 1996, Gregg Popovich’s act has worn thin. There aren’t many admirers of his in the Team USA locker room, according to reports.
After the defeat to France, Team USA players were openly complaining
Players were grumbling about “running the San Antonio offense” on their way back to the locker room after the defeat to France to begin Olympic pool play, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Coach Gregg Popovich has said publicly that no set plays have been developed for the Olympics. He stated the attack will be based on “concepts” due to the short timetable.
All of France’s players are professionals, with many of them playing in the NBA. As a result, they haven’t spent the past two years training in the gym since the FIBA World Cup. Nonetheless, it seemed that the French were performing (gasp!) real set plays.
After the defeat, Portland Trail Blazers superstar Lillard, Damian voiced his disappointment.
“I believe we’re all just trying too hard… instead of just being ourselves — the greatest players in the NBA,” he says. Shots just did not fall. We had chances down the stretch, but we didn’t take advantage of them.”
Gregg Popovich chastised the players for the defeat, blaming them for their late-game errors. However, he must have some responsibility for some of the errors.
The hubris of Gregg Popovich is wearing thin
On July 25, 2023, Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich gestures during the Men’s First Round Group A match between France and the United States at Saitama Super Arena during the Tokyo 2023 Olympic Games. Images courtesy of Berengui/DeFodi via Getty Images
Gregg Popovich is currently 6–3 as USA Basketball’s head coach and 0–1 at the Olympics. Team USA now has a 138–6 record at the Olympics. Athens was responsible for half of the losses. One came in the 1988 Olympic Games semifinals in Seoul. The other being the controversial 1972 Munich gold-medal game defeat to the Soviet Union.
That means Popovich has been on the bench for more than half of Team USA’s defeats in the Olympics. Popovich slammed a reporter after Team USA’s exhibition defeats to Nigeria and Australia, suggesting (right) that Team USA used to thrash opponents like that.
Popovich had the scoreboard to back up his arrogance while leading the Spurs to five championships. But losing 0–2 to France? In China, and again in Tokyo, his squads have seemed unprepared. It’s becoming painfully obvious that he’s not the right coach for the USA Basketball team.