The Self-to-Spurs rumor cycle begins anew

But there's no reason to buy it and/or panic. I'll explain.

As if they actually needed to do this, The Athletic has “league sources” on record that say Bill Self would be considered if and when current San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich retires. These sorts of bread crumbs reliably refuel media speculation that Bill Self, perhaps sooner than later, will leave Kansas and head to the pros. For many Jayhawk fans, this is an apocalyptic scenario.

While I think Bill Self wants a crack at the highest level, and will eventually get an opportunity somewhere, I’m fairly certain that it won’t be with the Spurs. Let me explain.

The ties between the San Antonio Spurs organization and Kansas basketball are strong, but that’s nothing new. R.C. Buford, the Spurs’ longtime GM, and Self went to Oklahoma State together, and have stayed close—personally and professionally—since that period. When Self’s coaching career started at Kansas under Larry Brown as a graduate assistant, Buford was a full-time assistant alongside fellow Brown assistant Alvin Gentry. During the 1986 season, Popovich was an itinerant member of that same staff, on a sabbatical from his coaching job at D-III Pomona-Pitzer.

In recent years, Buford and Self have kept the circle especially tight: R.C.’s son, Chase Buford, got a spot on the 2008 National Championship team, and Tyler Self is currently in his first year of a new job in the Spurs organization. (Buford now coaches the Wisconsin Herd, Milwaukee’s G-League team, which includes Frank Mason most nights). While all of this might not seem like I’m making a case against Self’s eventual hire, I find that head coaching vacancies aren’t often filled by strength of LinkedIn connections alone.

While a number of head coaches—Brad Stephens, Quin Snyder—have become well-regarded NBA coaches while learning on the job, the Popovich’s coaching tree is the most pillaged pipeline in the league. Looking around the league’s head coaches, a great number of success stories have direct ties to Popovich: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee), James Borrego (Charlotte), and Brett Brown (Philadelphia) all served on Pop’s bench. Becky Hammon will be an NBA head coach someday, and she is still on the Spurs bench as an assistant, despite interest from across the league.

While it’s not a given that the Spurs job, when it becomes open, would be a better job than the job that those coaches already have, it seems likely that the Spurs will go with someone familiar, whether it’s Hammon, Tim Duncan, or someone with a track record of success in the NBA. Despite his college bonafides, Self would be a risky hire compared to what options the Spurs currently have.

While KU fans love to stress about Self leaving, and I admit “so who’s the next coach” is a fun game to play, here’s my theory: this is Buford’s way of getting Self on the NBA radar, because that’s the kind of power Buford knows he has in this league. He’s returning the favor, in a never-ending cycle of favors between the two friends. He knows Bill is wanting to make the leap at some point, and throwing him some love, even in the midst of potential NCAA sanctions, is something that moves the needle with NBA peope. You see this more in college football, but the level of gamesmanship at work here for these competitive positions should not be under-estimated. Just like when Self claimed the Cavs reached out to him about their coaching position in 2014, there’s virtually no other info about it, or what the nature of their “reaching out” really was.

Point being, Self wants his name kicked around for these openings. The Spurs opening is a logical place to look, but the Spurs coaching tree is the most coveted in the league right now. Things could change—that’s the nature of these leagues. But when Bill Self gets a shot at the NBA, it won’t be in San Antonio.

About Last Night’s Game vs Milwaukee

🔝 PLAYS 🆚 Milwaukee 💯
December 11, 2019

Ochai and Devon went 8/14 from three, and the resulting space around the floor made it look like 5 on 4 out there for most of the game. KU can win games without hitting threes—they didn’t hit a three until the second half against Colorado—but they’ll truly smash opponents if the shots keep falling.

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