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Gregg Popovich happy for P.J. Carlesimo, upset for Avery Johnson

San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich looks

San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich looks on during a game against the Nets at the Barclays Center. (Feb. 10, 2013) Credit: Errol Anderson

P.J. Carlesimo picked up three championship rings while serving as the lead assistant on Gregg Popovich's staff with the Spurs, who won the NBA title in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

But don't think for a second that Popovich wasn't happy when the Spurs put it to Carlesimo's team on New Year's Eve, throttling the Nets, 104-73.

"We kicked his [butt],'' the longtime Spurs coach said Sunday night before facing Carlesimo and the Nets at Barclays Center. "We just drilled them and we loved it. We just made jokes at each other the whole game."

Popovich was being his usual stand-up comedic self, but he's genuinely pleased to see the success that Carlesimo is having as the Nets' interim coach.

There's a part of him that's a little conflicted, given that another of his proteges, Avery Johnson, had to get fired in order for Carlesimo to take over. But at least the job went to someone else whom he cares about deeply.

"He's done a good job, obviously," Popovich said. "They've reacted well to him. They seem to believe in what he's doing.

"I wasn't thrilled like I would be, to have a friend lose a job like Avery. That was something at the time I thought was short-sighted or a little bit impatient, but it's a business and I'm not there. I don't know the circumstances there. You hate to see it.

"It was odd. I had one good friend fired and another good friend taking over. You make a phone call to one and then you call the next one; it's a strange feeling. I love them both and now I wish all the best for P.J. and hope it works out."

Going GreenNorth Babylon product Danny Green, who is averaging double figures for the first time in his four-year NBA career, scored 14 points Sunday night and is leading the Spurs with 112 three-point makes. He scored a career-high 28 points and made a career-best eight three-pointers against Minnesota on Wednesday. Popovich attributed Green's success to a "mental transformation."

"He always had a little bit of trouble focusing, being intense enough," Popovich said, "aggressive enough for a long enough period where he would disappear, and he need to approach it like he wanted to beat somebody out, that he wanted to get a job, and if he didn't get that job, there's no other job available.

"After the last time I cut him, I told him why and what he had to work on,'' said Popovich, who appealed to Green's college coach, North Carolina's Roy Williams, for his assistance. "I got coach Williams to help me double-team him and we smacked him around a little bit. When he came to camp this year, he was hell-bent for leather. He came to kick butt and he did it and he's had a great year. I'm really happy for him."

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