Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty got NBA coaching start with Spurs
BY CHARLES F. GARDNER, MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN JOURNAL SENTINEL
St. Francis — Joe Prunty knows better than most why the San Antonio Spurs are so successful.
The Milwaukee Bucks interim coach got a close-up look at the Spurs organization as a video coordinator, advance scout and assistant coach for nine seasons.
The Spurs gave Prunty his start in the NBA in 1996 and he was with them when they won league titles in 1999, 2003 and 2005.
It has been more than a decade since Prunty moved on to other teams, including Dallas, Portland, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Milwaukee. But Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still playing for the Spurs and Gregg Popovich is still coaching in San Antonio.
The Spurs — minus an injured Parker — will make their only visit of the season to Milwaukee on Monday night.
"They do an amazing job of bringing in pieces that fit the system, and the system has been in place for a long time," Prunty said. "They have players that know exactly where they need to be, defensively and offensively.
"They are very good with understanding the scheme (defensively). Offensively, they understand spacing. They understand the value of moving the ball.
"Manu, Tim and Tony have been together since 2002. Patty Mills has now been there for a long time and Matt Bonner has been there for a while."
The Spurs are off to a franchise-record 20-0 start at home and are 29-6 overall, posting the second-best record in the league to the Golden State Warriors' 31-2 mark.
Prunty said he has tried to emulate Popovich, who is in his 20th season with the Spurs.
"I tried to learn as much as I could, and that's where Pop was phenomenal for me and so many of us," Prunty said. "He allowed us to be a part of it, to grow and learn from all the situations.
"I know the benefit for me was tremendous. I'm not even sure what the exact words would be to say how valuable it was. There are a lot of good people I've been able to be around, and it started there."
Prunty was coaching at the high school level in San Diego 20 years ago and first made connections with the Spurs through former University of San Diego coach Hank Egan.
Eventually Egan got a job with the Spurs and let Prunty know a position might be available with San Antonio.
The job actually was as an assistant video coordinator, and Prunty left briefly for a college position before coming back to the Spurs as video coordinator.
"Pop and (general manager) R.C. (Buford) were always good to me in the opportunities they allowed me," Prunty said. "It was being able to do work on the floor, coaching summer leagues, being an assistant."
Popovich spoke highly of Prunty when the Bucks were in San Antonio in early December and suffered a 95-70 loss at the AT&T Center.
Now Prunty will be matching wits with his former boss as the Bucks try to grab a third straight victory. Milwaukee finished a 2-2 road trip with a 95-85 victory at Minnesota on Saturday night.
"We had a nice road trip," Prunty said. "We were in every game. We can go back to the Toronto game at home where it was a six-point game with 4 minutes left.
"And I thought we made progress when we were on the road trip out west. Obviously the Laker game (an 18-point defeat) didn't go as well as we wanted, but from there we did some really nice things. So this has been going on for a while that we've been going in the right direction."
Prunty is 3-3 since taking over for coach Jason Kidd, who is sidelined after undergoing right hip surgery on Dec. 21. But Prunty said the coaching staff remains in close contact with Kidd and will continue to do so until he can return to the bench.
Tooth troubles: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo chipped a tooth in the first quarter Saturday as he tried to block a shot and fell hard to the floor, landing on his face. He was able to return to the game and had 11 points and nine rebounds to help the Bucks beat the Timberwolves.
Prunty said Antetokounmpo took part in the Bucks' light practice session Sunday but was scheduled for a dental appointment later in the day.
"The intent is for him to be there (Monday), but obviously I don't know," Prunty said.