Bill Self to San Antonio conspiracy theorists won't be proven right any time soon
From the time that it became clear to those who obsess over Kansas basketball that Bill Self was indeed the longterm answer for the program and a more than suitable replacement for Roy Williams, who left KU for North Carolina, those among the fan base prone to worrying about these types of things began fretting about which basketball team would one day lure Self away from Lawrence.
The popular potential offender quickly became the San Antonio Spurs.
KU conspiracy theorists pointed to Self’s longstanding friendship with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, dating back to their college days at Oklahoma State.
At some point, they figured, head coach Gregg Popovich would leave the Spurs. And when that happened, the premise went, why wouldn’t Buford call up his old pal, Bill Self?
Through the years, fodder for such speculation grew. Self and Buford are close enough that R.C.’s son, Chase, joined the KU basketball team as a walk-on. After Bill’s son, Tyler, graduated from Kansas, he took an entry level job in the Spurs’ basketball operations office.
Yet, here we are, 16 years after Self took over the KU basketball program, and he’s still in Lawrence and Popovich remains in San Antonio.
Even so, this offseason was one that had to be circled on the calendars of the most paranoid KU basketball supporters, because Popovich's $11 million a year contract with San Antonio would expire at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
Throw in recent rumors of Self being a candidate for the Chicago Bulls’ job — as if Self doesn’t know Fred Holberg well enough to know to avoid that franchise; and, by the way, the Bulls signed Hoiberg's replacement, Jim Boylen, to a contract extension in January — and theorists might have even more reasons to worry about Self leaving for San Antonio, because the 70-year-old Popovich, hypothetically, could decide to retire.
If Self shooting down NBA rumors earlier this month and declaring his intentions to not only coach the Jayhawks next season, but also “hopefully” begin negotiating an extension of his contract, which expires following the 2021-22 season, didn’t do the trick for the Self to San Antonio worry warts out there, maybe this will.
Popovich told reporters Monday, two days after the Spurs’ season ended with a first-round loss to Denver, he’s negotiating a new contract with San Antonio.
We don’t know yet how long Popovich's new deal will last with the Spurs, so perhaps these developments only kick the Self as Pop’s replacement suspicions down the road a few years.
But here’s another hunch. Self won’t be the next coach in San Antonio.
The Spurs, unlike many NBA organizations, emphasize system and culture, because that’s what Popovich, head coach and president of the team, has put in place.
Popovich is to the Spurs what Dean Smith was to UNC and what Mike Krzyzewski is to Duke.
So when Popovich eventually decides to leave behind the franchise that is as synonymous with his name and face as it is with Tim Duncan’s, you can bet that Buford will ask Popovich for advice in finding the first new Spurs head coach since the 1996-97 season.
And when that day comes, here’s my hypothesis of how it will play out: it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Popovich helps pave the way for some NBA history by recommending the Spurs become the first team to hire a female head coach, San Antonio assistant Becky Hammon.