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Popovich says he thinks Celtics will improve

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said he thinks the Celtics will improve if they stay patient.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said he thinks the Celtics will improve if they stay patient.

SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich offered a guarantee Wednesday, saying that the Celtics will have success if they remain patient during the rebuilding process under new coach Brad Stevens.

Popovich, the veteran San Antonio Spurs coach, offered nothing but praise for Stevens before the teams faced off at the AT&T Center, saying that he even studied Stevens’s Butler teams.

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“When they were on TV, I watched the game, [to] see what I could pick up, [to] see what he did, because he did such a fine job,” Popovich said.

“Yeah, and the answer was no,” Stevens said with a laugh, doubting that there was anything perhaps the NBA’s finest coach could learn from a young college coach.

“It’s a really kind thing for him to say,” Stevens said. “He’s at the top of our profession. I don’t think there’s any question about it, in a number of ways.”

Stevens added, “I admire them greatly, admire him greatly. Us Indiana guys, we have to stick together sometimes.”

Popovich was born in East Chicago, Ind., and attended high school in Merrillville, Ind. Stevens grew up in Zionsville, Ind., and attended high school and college in the state.

Popovich didn’t think there was much he could teach Stevens.

“He doesn’t need advice from me,” he said. “He’s already a good coach in his own stead.”

Popovich went on to say that “In this league, with the number of games, and as talented as teams are…patience is probably a big commodity, especially in someone’s situation who’s used to winning night after night after night.

“It’s a little bit different when you’re rebuilding a program, and so patience on everybody’s part is really important and Danny [Ainge] has it and he understands the situation and all it will do is improve as time goes on, guaranteed.”

For his part, Popovich said he was glad to see the Celtics reach into the college ranks to hire a coach who had no NBA experience prior to this season.

“I think we don’t see it enough, where ownership and GMs will actually look and say, ‘Who is coaching well?’ rather than ‘What name can I bring or what would this do or that?’” Popovich said.

“But actually look around the country – it doesn’t matter what level – and say, ‘This guy is doing a hell of a job right here.’ Or maybe from another country – ‘This guy is doing a hell of a job.’ Whatever it might be. And Danny did that, so he deserves a lot of credit for it.”

Stevens did note that even though he was busy at Butler, he spent plenty of time studying the Spurs.

“Though they don’t get a lot of attention maybe nationally all the time, because they’re not the flashiest [team], they get every bit of every coach’s attention in the country because they do everything that we all want our teams to do,” Stevens said.

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