OAKLAND -- Ron Adams turns 70 this year and he doesn’t know how much longer he wants to live out of a suitcase, only that he’d like his current gig to be the last of his 47 seasons sprinkling basketball advice upon those willing to be taught.
There is, however, something Adams would like to do before he goes, whenever that is. He’d like to be a part of a staff that gets the best of the magnificent Gregg Popovich and his indomitable San Antonio Spurs.
That chance awaits, as the Warriors and Spurs meet Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. And Adams, a hoops purist and a coach’s coach, is crawling through defensive principles for the opportunity to match wits with the man some regard as the best strategist of the modern age.
“They’re so well respected,” Adams told NBCSportsBayArea.com. “They have a great program and have had that for 20-something years. They’re the gold standard, and (Popovich) has been the mainstay.”
The Warriors operate under the supervision of head coach Steve Kerr, who is out indefinitely for health reasons yet remains the voice of the team, communicating his vision several times a day to acting head coach Mike Brown.
But Adams is the most independent of assistants, pretty much allowed to express his desires at will -- as it pertains to defense. That’s why, for example, when there is a timeout and the staff convenes before Kerr or Brown addresses the players, Adams is saying his piece. When Kerr or Brown steps in, Adams steps back.
As much as Popovich, 68, and the Spurs represent a test for the abilities of Kerr and Brown, both of whom have learned at Pop’s feet, one of the juicier aspects of this conference finals matchup is the two grizzled veterans going at it. For all that these two coaching lifers have in common -- from basketball to politics and fine dining -- this series is about whether Adams’ defense can stifle Pop’s offense.
Adams recalls marveling at the way San Antonio took apart the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. The Spurs won in five, by an average score of 103-91. They shot 52.8 percent from the field, including 46.6 percent beyond the arc.
“I thought, from a standpoint of execution, many of the games in that series were, for me, as good as one can execute on a basketball court on any level,” Adams says.
“You have these great high school teams and they’re marvelous and they execute and everyone does the right thing and everyone is in tune. You have college teams like that; I’ve been a part of some college teams like that.
“But at the pro level, I don’t think I have seen anything more masterful than how they played in that particular series.”
San Antonio’s 120.8 offensive rating in that series is the highest in any Finals since that metric was introduced in 1984.
It’s a different Spurs team now; Tim Duncan is gone, so is Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter and Marco Belinelli and, of course, Matt Bonner. They’ve added LaMarcus Aldridge to fill some of the vacuum left in the wake of Duncan. And Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, has evolved into the No. 1 player.
Popovich remains at the helm, consistently spinning success from a few stars and a great many spare parts.
“The thing they do year in and year out is stay consistent,” Adams says. “This team, in particular, seems to perform well in the margins of the game, the hustle parts of the game. Over the course of time, they’ve always been so good in those areas. That’s what makes them who they are.”
The Spurs needed six games to finish Memphis in the first round. And after being hammered by Houston, 126-99, in Game 1 of the conference semifinals, San Antonio won Game 2, but in the process lost Parker for the rest of the postseason.
No matter. They pulled it together to win three of the next four and oust the Rockets, whom they buried with a 114-75 victory in Game 6 while Leonard watched from the bench with a sprained ankle.
The Spurs are going to play good defense against the Warriors, so it’s imperative that the Warriors counter with even better defense. That’s the element that sits in Adams’ lap.
“They’re capable of playing really good basketball with key people out of the lineup,” he says. “When you put all this together, it makes for a really challenging, challenging series.
“From a coaching standpoint, it’s really fun. Pop is one of the great coaches in the history of our league. Going against him -- he also has a great staff -- it’s all fun stuff, and it’s a great way for us to sort of measure ourselves.”
Adams doesn’t want to spend many more years measuring himself against other coaches and teams. The Warriors are his ninth NBA stop. He has his bona fides; he is generally considered the top assistant in the league.
This is the first time he has coached against Popovich in the postseason. Who knows if there will be another chance?
So before Adams goes, he’d like nothing more than to be a significant member of a coaching staff good enough to beat the recognized best when it matters most.