When Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili for Thursday night’s nationally televised game in Miami against the world champion Heat, it may have been disappointing, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise.
Popovich has done this for years, resting perfectly healthy players for no reason other than he feels it’s best for his team over the course of an 82-game season.
Exactly how much the rest of one November game will help his aging team in the postseason over five months from now remains to be seen, but there are currently no rules against dong so, so Popovich and the Spurs organization are well within their rights.
David Stern, however, didn’t seem to be as rational when delivering his statement on the matter, which was shown in a graphic on TNT prior to tip-off during the pregame show, and later sent out by the league in an official release.
“I apologize to all NBA fans,” the statement from Stern said. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Good for the league for putting its foot down on this issue. It’s completely ridiculous for fans to buy a ticket for one product, only to be bait-and-switched for no good reason at the last minute.
The fact that Spurs-Heat is a matchup between two of the league’s best teams and is being televised nationally on TNT also factors into the equation. The league’s broadcast partners pay a fortune for the right to televise the best teams playing one another, and having a coach willfully mess with one of these matchups is just bad for the league, pure and simple.
If resting San Antonio’s aging stars at the end of a road trip was Popovich’s main priority, he could have given them the night off on Wednesday against a dreadful Orlando Magic team that they very well might have beaten anyway. Then, the league, the fans, and TNT would have gotten their marquee matchup, and the Spurs players would have gotten their rest. In that scenario, everyone wins.
Instead, we have this controversy brewing where the league is trying to tell a coach how to manage his players, without any precedent, and without any rules in place that state it’s against policy to do what Popovich and the Spurs decided to.
To be clear, I’m firmly on the side of Stern and the league on this issue. I just don’t see how anything can be done about it now in terms of a fine or other sanctions being handed down, since there was nothing specifically in place prohibiting the Spurs actions.
If nothing else, this issue is now firmly on the league’s radar, and will likely be addressed with some sort of guidelines for teams to follow in future seasons, with penalties attached for non-compliance.