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Subbing for U.S.: Popovich

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Buck Harvey: Subbing for the U.S.: Popovich





ATHENS, Greece ? Gregg Popovich, not Admin Brown, should be the U.S. men's head coach.


Popovich knows the international game better. Knows how to free Tim Duncan. Knows how to walk into an office (such as the USA Basketball office, for example) and get what he wants.


And the tough Lithuanian guard who took over Saturday?


Popovich knows him, too.


Brown is no slouch, and he's coming off his finest moment as a pro coach. Popovich, one of Brown's best friends, couldn't have been happier for Brown after Detroit won the NBA title in June.


Little wonder these two are working together in the Olympics. Just as Popovich once assisted Brown in San Antonio, he is here.


But these Olympics have not brought out the best in Brown. He announced early he had no role in choosing the players for this team, when he certainly had the clout to.


He's also gone to the media about the flaws within the roster, dropping hints that Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have been a pain. This, in any business, is called distancing yourself from potential failure.


These players likely have been less than ideal Olympians. But if Brown wanted to build this team differently, all he had to do was point to the Team USA's embarrassing world championships two years ago. Popovich, feeling the hammer in his hand, would have pounded for his kind of guys.


Brown can also make a locker room a painful place to be, as the Spurs know from the old days. And when he chose to play Anthony and Marbury on Saturday ? was it a hunch or was he playing mind games? ? the move backfired. Marbury, in particular, was awful at the end.


Afterward Brown said he thought his team was getting better, and that makes two former dynasties feeling absolutely wonderful about coming close. The Americans and Tiger Woods.


At least, this time it took something special to beat the U.S. men's basketball team. Only when a cocky kid named Sarunas Jasikevicius stepped back and revenged Sydney did Lithuania win.


That game in the 2000 Olympics was the signal of what was to come. Even with Jason Kidd and Gary Payton ? both healthy and younger ? the Americans didn't dominate. Jasikevicius then scored 27 points, and only when his last-second three missed did Team USA escape.


Jasikevicius completed the job Saturday. Down by three points late, he pump-faked Lamar Odom, then drew the foul, then threw in the three that led to the four-play and the lead, then glared at Odom.


It was a disdainful look, as if to say: What a stupid move.


As the Americans allowed Jasikevicius more 3-point shots, Duncan likely wanted to give the same look to his teammates. Afterward, Carlos Boozer pointed a finger at his coaching staff, suggesting it should have changed something to get the ball out of Jasikevicius' hands.


The same might have happened with Popovich in control. After all, he's whispering in Brown's ear.


But Popovich wouldn't have merely been adjusting to an opponent he was watching. He would have been adjusting to a player he wanted. The Spurs tried to get Jasikevicius last season, but the lack of a buy-out clause in his contract prevented it. They likely would have signed him this summer had they not used a first-round draft choice on another European point guard.


It's typical of a franchise already with players from France to Slovenia to Argentina, and typical of a franchise with players throughout this Olympics. Popovich understands and believes in the international game.


Brown, in contrast, has most recently coached mainly American-born rosters in Philadelphia and Detroit.


Popovich has also been consumed about how the international style can affect his player, Duncan. He keeps looking for shooters to open up the inside for Duncan, the reason for the interest in Jasikevicius.


Saturday, without that protection, Duncan got only seven shots, sinking six.


For now, none of it matters. Popovich will work the edges as he always did before for Brown, being both his confidant and his coaching resource. It might still be enough.


But regardless of whether it is, there's always something else. In 2008 in Beijing, Popovich, not anyone else, should be the coach.

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