The Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree is Alive and Well in the 2023 NBA Playoffs

While the days of the San Antonio Spurs being perennial contenders are at least temporarily in the rearview mirror, head coach Gregg Popovich’s fingerprints can be found throughout the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Popovich, who will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in August, has seven direct branches from his coaching tree leading teams in the postseason. 

Furthermore, factoring in secondary branches, more than half of the 16 playoff teams have head coaches from Popovich’s coaching tree. 

Direct Branches of Gregg Popovich’s Coaching Tree in the 2023 NBA Playoffs

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Popovich hired Mike Budenholzer to be San Antonio’s video coordinator in 1994. From 1996 to 2013, Budenholzer was an assistant coach for the Spurs. In fact, he was Popovich’s lead assistant coach for most of that time. Budenholzer is now in his fifth season as head coach of the Bucks and is looking to guide the franchise to a championship for a second time. 

Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns

Originally, Monty Williams played for Popovich from 1996 to 1998. After his playing days, Williams was a coaching staff intern for the Spurs during their 2005 championship run. Following the tragic death of his wife in an automobile accident, Williams returned to San Antonio in 2016 to join the team’s front office. He’s now the head coach of the Suns, the team he led to the NBA Finals back in 2021. With Kevin Durant now in Phoenix, Williams will have another shot at bringing Phoenix their first championship trophy. 

Jacque Vaughn, Brooklyn Nets

Like Williams, Jacque Vaughn has a variety of connections to the Popovich coaching tree. First, he played for Popovich from 2006 to 2009 and served as the team’s backup point guard during the 2007 championship run. Second, Vaughn was an assistant coach for Popovich from 2010 to 2012. Finally, he worked as a scout for the Spurs during the 2015-16 season. Vaughn is now the head coach for the Nets, the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings

Mike Brown has been the best coach in basketball this season. He led the Sacramento Kings, a team not expected to make the playoffs, to a 48-34 record and the third seed in the Western Conference. Brown was an assistant coach under Popovich from 2000 to 2003, winning a championship in his final season on San Antonio’s bench. 

Quin Snyder, Atlanta Hawks

Quin Snyder almost quit the coaching profession after an investigation-marred stint as the head coach at the University of Missouri. However, Popovich and the Spurs brought him in as the head coach of the Austin Toros — and his career took off. After leaving the Toros, he also served as an assistant coach under Mike Brown in Los Angeles, Mike Budholzer in Atlanta and Ettore Messina in Moscow. He’s now the head coach of Dejounte Murray, Trae Young and the rest of the Atlanta Hawks. 

Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies

Jenkins joined the Spurs as a front office intern. From there, he became an assistant G League coach in Austin before eventually becoming the team’s head coach. Jenkins rejoined the NBA as an assistant coach for Budenholzer, a job he kept for six seasons. He’s now in his fourth season with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are the second seed in the West after finishing the regular season with a record of 51-31.

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Popovich and the Spurs won a championship after trading for Kerr in 1999. Prior to the 2002-03 season, Popovich traded for Kerr again and the Spurs once again won a championship. Kerr also served as Popovich’s assistant coach at the Tokyo Olympic Games and helped lead Team USA to a gold medal. 

Secondary Branches of Gregg Popovich’s Coaching Tree in the 2023 NBA Playoffs

Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets

Popovich met Michael Malone at a “Basketball Without Borders” event in 2005 that took place in Argentina. Popovich was so impressed with Malone that he helped him land a job on Mike Brown’s coaching staff with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Darvin Ham, Los Angeles Lakers

While Darvin Ham never played or coached under Popovich, there’s only one degree of separation between the two. Ham was an assistant coach under Mike Brown in Los Angeles and then was an assistant coach under Mike Budenholzer in both Atlanta and Milwaukee. Additionally, Ham played for the Austin Toros in 2008. 

Other Connections to the Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree

Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics

Joe Mazzulla was an assistant coach in Boston under long-time Spurs assistant Ime Udoka. When Udoka lost his job, Mazzulla took over.

Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers

Popovich, as the general manager of the Spurs, signed Rivers back in 1994.

Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks

Popovich and Thibodeau were assistant coaches for Larry Brown when he coached the Spurs in the early 1990s.