Gregg Popovich made one of the most controversial coaching decisions when he decided to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green home on a road game in Miami. Nobody is denying that. Where the debate comes in is David Stern’s decision to slap a $250,000 fine on the roster littered with Hall of Famers and NBA champions.
The popular position is to side with coach Gregg Popovich. He is responsible to the San Antonio Spurs for putting them in a place that best gives them a chance to win a championship. After all, that is the ultimate goal in sports.
Not only that, but Popovich has proven that he is more than capable of creating bona-fide championship managerial decisions. Resting Duncan and Ginobili—players well past their prime—is going to be part of the regular season. Players that are younger have been injured in less trying circumstances, namely Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury in the last minutes of what was a blowout win, so Popovich appears to be completely right in deciding to sit his stars.
More importantly, the San Antonio Spurs landed a terrible stretch of games by the NBA. Six away games in nine days is a bout of horrendously bad luck and should not have happened, especially when it involves trekking from Canada to Miami (among other stops, of course). The Heat, on the other hand, have played one game in the past week and it was against the Cavaliers.
So while the Heat fans did get the short end of the stick not being able to see some of the NBA’s best in action, Popovich’s decision was purely in the best interest of the organization. And the Spurs nearly won the game, too, so it’s not as if the Spurs gave the Heat a freebie. Taking it at its surface value, which Skip Bayless did in Friday’s episode of First Take, you might say that the amalgamation of these factors means that of course Gregg Popovich can rest his guys.
Initially, I was also infuriated that David Stern was going to drop the hammer on one of the NBA’s most respectable franchises. But, that initial overreaction probably had a lot to do with to the NFL saga that has gone on between the New Orleans Saints and commissioner Roger Goodell.
The reality is that David Stern was completely correct in deciding to fine the Spurs.
His words: “[The Spurs] did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."
|Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili weren't even on the|
bench vs. Miami on Thursday.
Stern articulated the perfect reason for the fine. Never does he say that the fine is directly because of benching Duncan and Co., but rather it’s the lack of timely manner that led to the fine. That is precisely the problem. A personal analogy: as a fan, I have specifically chosen to watch games that had the best players on the field. Back in the early days of what is now AT&T Park in San Francisco, Barry Bonds was bashing home run after home run. I was ecstatic one day to see the Giants in action.
And while I love cheering on my home team, my left field seat shows an equally valid intention for paying the price of admission: I wanted to be entertained by (a juiced up) home run hitting machine.
But he sat out that game.
Here we are, more than a decade later, and I still remember that game. I don’t remember any of the results of the game, but I remember the fact that I missed the man who would hit 756 career home runs. I was disappointed much for the very same reasons that Heat fans were probably disappointed (even though they are spoiled themselves with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade…).
I had spent good money to watch a game—to be entertained—by some of the best professional athletes in the world. I gladly would have bought tickets to a different game to see Bonds play (but since it was a Giants home game, nobody cared, of course). The point is clear: the Spurs come to Miami once a year. But the fans would rather pay to see most other NBA teams play the Heat than the second-string Spurs team that comes once a year.
Even though he has the right to choose when to rest his players, the way he did it this time was not right. Popovich is obliged to put the Spurs organization in the best position to win; however, he also has a responsibility to the league and its fans to let them know when such prominent NBA (super)stars will sit out when its for a reason like scheduling.
The integrity of the NBA—and ultimately his paycheck—depend on it.