DALLAS — Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs will soon become the fourth 70-year-old coach in NBA history, but he remains undecided about coaching the Spurs beyond this season.
Popovich, who turns 70 on Jan. 28, is in the last season of a five-year contract extension he signed after the Spurs won their most recent championship in 2014.
“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season Wednesday night after the Spurs’ 105-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Popovich said he and R.C. Buford, San Antonio’s longtime team president, have periodically discussed the club’s various options after this season.
“He’ll coach as long as he wants to coach,” Buford said.
Whether or not he stays on the Spurs’ bench, Popovich has committed to spending the next two summers coaching the men’s national team for USA Basketball, at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. An Air Force Academy graduate who was one of the final cuts from the 1972 American Olympic team, Popovich has served as a USA Basketball assistant — but this will be his first stint in charge after being named to replace Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University as the head coach in October 2015.
Among the challenges Popovich would face next season, should he elect to keep coaching the Spurs, is a turnaround of just two weeks between the end of the World Cup on Sept. 15 and the start of NBA training camps.
The Spurs have recovered from their offseason trade of Kawhi Leonard, the disgruntled All-Star forward, and an 11-14 start this season — the worst record under Popovich through 25 games. A 15-6 surge since then has moved them to No. 6 in the Western Conference.
San Antonio is seeking a 22nd consecutive playoff appearance in a run that began in Popovich’s first full season as head coach. He coached the final 64 games of a 20-62 campaign in 1996-97, which earned San Antonio the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft and the right to select Tim Duncan.
Led by Popovich and Duncan, who retired in 2016, San Antonio won five championships across 15 seasons. But this season featured Popovich’s first training camp without at least one of three Spurs mainstays: Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, who retired at the end of last season, and Tony Parker, who left San Antonio for Charlotte in free agency over the summer.
On Popovich’s birthday, he will join Bill Bertka (71), Hubie Brown (71) and Larry Brown (70) as the only head coaches in league history to work into their 70s, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Larry Brown gave Popovich and Buford their starts in the NBA by bringing them in as assistant coaches with the Spurs in 1988.
One of just five NBA coaches in history to win at least five championships, Popovich recently moved into third place in coaching wins, behind Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens. The other NBA coaches to win five titles are Phil Jackson (11), Red Auerbach (nine), Pat Riley (five) and John Kundla (five).