File photo of NBA Commissioner Stern speaks in New York

David Stern: Be careful where you step in punishing Popovich, Spurs


Three times last season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the same game. He’s done it before then as well. And he is far from the only coach to rest multiple key players in a game — Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson and other coaches have done it.

And while fans and media sometimes grumbled — “people paid good money to see those stars” — those moves always came without comment from the NBA.

But when Popovich rested his big three on Thursday night for a much anticipated, nationally televised game against the Miami Heat, fans were upset and David Stern stepped in with a statement.

“I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

This post is not a debate about whether Popovich did the right thing — I think he was well within his rights, our own Brett Pollakoff and plenty fans who tweeted me disagree saying Popovich needed to think of the league and the fans. That is a discussion for another day. (The game being competitive down to the final minute also has little bearing here.)

My point is this — Stern is about to change either NBA rules or at least how the rules are interpreted and enforced by going after the Spurs with some kind of fine and punishment. And once he does that he sets a new precedent that has to be carried out for every team all season long.

And everywhere Stern and the league step with this new rule there are landmines.

With a punishment to the Spurs, the league is saying Popovich’s move — resting healthy players at the end of a road trip even if they are tired — is bad for the overall business of the NBA and cannot be tolerated. While Stern has always been about marketing and league perception first and foremost, he has not ventured into telling coaches how to coach before and a punishment to the Spurs changes that.

David Stern may feel the fan’s frustration from Thursday but he has a lot of questions to think about if he is going to punish the Spurs:

• Why is this situation in Miami a violation of league rules when Popovich did the same thing in Portland last year and it wasn’t? More to the point, how is that line drawn? What is and is not a violation?

• Is it something that is not okay to do in November but would be permitted later in the season, say March? Is the disappointed 12-year-old who doesn’t get to see his favorite players in November justified in his anger but the 12-year-old who has tickets the final week of the season is not?

• Is resting players something that cannot be done for nationally televised games but is okay to do in other games? Does what market the game is in matter? To use the Spurs case as an example, was it wrong to do this in Miami on a Thursday but would have been okay in Orlando on Wednesday? (Be careful in saying publicly that the fans and ratings in big markets are more important that smaller ones.)

• How do you define what players can and cannot be sat? If it is wrong for Popovich to sit major stars like Duncan and Parker, what about if Bucks coach Scott Skiles sits Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings to rest them next week. Is that different? What players can and can’t be sat out? Is this a burden that falls only on teams with superstar players?

• Stern can’t use the “competitiveness” argument because the Spurs almost won that game, this is about the NBA’s star system and Stern pretty much has to own up to that here.

• What happens when Popovich wants to rest Duncan and to avoid a league fine Duncan suddenly has a minor foot or knee injury? By just a few weeks into any season you could make a case for every NBA player having a minor injury they should rest.

Wherever Stern steps on this issue there are potential landmines. He can’t say its wrong to do this in Miami but fine in Portland or other smaller market. He doesn’t want to get into dictating who a coach can and can’t play, but this skirts up against it. There is no easy way to define it. If he starts trying to define it by being competitive the Spurs were that.

In the past the league did not take action in these situations. Stern is changing how the rules are enforced if he acts to fine the Spurs here, and he is setting a new precedent that is going to apply to every team in the league going forward. He better think this through. Carefully.

Or it might be smarter if he just walked away from it altogether.

Joel Embiid hits shots, blocks Westbrook, looks good in debut

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And somewhere, Sam Hinkie weeps.

After two seasons on the sidelines with foot injuries, Joel Embiid played his first NBA game Wednesday night — and he looked good — 20 points, seven rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots. The Philadelphia crowd loved him — when he opened the game with a nice move and free-throw line jumper, followed by a block of Russell Westbrook, the arena nearly exploded. He was later serenaded with “trust the process” chants as he shot free throws.

He’s still a work in progress — he tried to do too much rather than let the game come to him. That led to 7-of-17 shooting and him chasing blocks on defense and getting out of position. He played like an over-amped rookie. Which he was. (Apparently, some Philly fans were a little over-amped, too.)

But one with a world of talent. The Sixers have something here.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Lakers youth steps out of Kobe’s shadow

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 04:  D'Angelo Russell #1 and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a Sacramento Kings foul during a preseason game at Honda Center on October 4, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The NBA had its first full slate of games, and PBT is back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while getting arrested for blocking traffic dressed as a tree.

1) Lakers youth shows out. Rockets are what we thought they were. Last season’s Kobe Bryant farewell tour was entertaining at moments — but Wednesday night the new, young, Luke Walton Lakers were unleashed and that was a much better show. And it was show Lakers fans have longed to see. For the first time D’Angelo Russell looked like he enjoyed playing in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson was clutch and led the team with 25 points. Julius Randle used his athleticism wisely on his way to 18. Brandon Ingram showed flashes. Heck, I swear I saw Nick Young doing the dirty work on defense. Sure, it helps when the opposing defense is basically a matador waving a cape as you drive past them, still these young Lakers were attacking, playing fast — and winning, 120-114. No, the Lakers are not suddenly morphing into a playoff team in the West this season, but their young stars came out of Kobe’s shadow and basked in the sunlight for a night. This team is going to be fun. And it’s the show Lakers fans have wanted to see.

This season is so simple for the Rockets: They will go as far as their defense takes them. And that defense was a dumpster fire on opening night (the Lakers scored at a 115 points per 100 possession pace). In the second half the Lakers upped their defensive pressure and when the Rockets offense stumbled — 18 points in the fourth, just two in the final 2:55, no James Harden assists for more than 18 minutes — there was nothing for Houston to fall back on. The Rockets are going to be a entertaining to watch this season, but if their defense doesn’t improve they will lose a lot of games just like this.

2) Anthony Davis put up Jordan, Wilt numbers on opening night — and it was not enough. Anthony Davis is back. A year ago he was the guy most NBA GMs said they wanted to build around, then after one “down” season (24.3 point and 10.3 rebounds a game is down?) everyone is in love with Karl-Anthony Towns. Tuesday, Davis reminded everyone he’s a beast. A franchise player. Absolutely unstoppable when he gets going. And Wednesday night he was going — 50 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, and four blocks. Only three others in NBA history put up 50 on opening night: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan. That is some serious company.

And the Pelicans still lost to the Denver Nuggets. For all Davis’ greatness the management in New Orleans has not put enough team around him to win games, not at a “make the playoffs” level anyway. Pelicans not named Davis shot 36.2 percent overall and 17.7 percent from three. This isn’t on coach Alvin Gentry, blame falls higher up the ladder. The clock is now ticking in New Orleans — Davis is in the first season of his new five-year contract (the first after his rookie deal). If the Pelicans don’t have it together around him by the time this contract is up, he’s going to bolt.

3) Myles Turner might be your Most Improved Player. When we at PBT made our award predictions for the coming season, I did not pick Myles Turner for Most Improved Player (in part because I don’t like to pick second-year players for that award — they are supposed to improve). But as NBC’s Dan Feldman told me lat night, we both should have picked him. Wednesday night Turner looked like the guy making the biggest leap — he had 30 points,16 rebounds, and four blocks in the season opener. He’s the guy who led the Pacers to an overtime win over the Mavericks. Paul George had an efficient 25, he stepped up as you’d expect in OT, but this was Turner’s night. He can score inside and has range — does this shot chart work for you?

Turner shot chart

If Indiana is going to be a real playoff threat, they are going to need this Turner regularly — and they just might get it. This guy is ready to take the next step.

Bonus Wednesday note: If you’re betting that Russell Westbrook can average a triple-double this season, opening night was a good night for you. Westbrook had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. He is going to just be a stats machine this year.

Watch as DeMar DeRozan drop 40, lead Raptors to 109-91 win over Pistons

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points and Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 32 as the Toronto Raptors opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

DeRozan made a career-high 17 field goals on 27 shots and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line, while Valanciunas was 10 for 15 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Valanciunas’ previous career high was 31, also against the Pistons, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games against Toronto.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s opening-night record of 39 points, set against the-then New Jersey Nets in 2003. Alvin Robertson is the only other Toronto player to record a 30-point opening-night game, in the franchise’s first-ever game, also against New Jersey, in 1995.

Pascal Siakam, drafted 27th overall in June, became the first Toronto rookie to start a season opener since Valanciunas in 2012, and rose to the occasion, hauling in nine rebounds to go along with four points in 21 minutes.

Despite falling into a seven-point deficit 2:09 into the game, the Raptors went in front on a jumper by DeRozan with 6:47 to go in the first quarter and led the rest of the way.

DeRozan and Valanciunas steadied the ship in the opening quarter, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They were a combined 13 for 13 from the free throw line and scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, as the Raptors took a 33-23 lead after one quarter.

While Detroit responded against Toronto’s reserves in the second, drawing within four points early on through Morris, Valanciunas returned to the game and added another 11 points as the Raptors pulled into a 58-46 halftime lead.

DeRozan provided much of the fireworks in the third quarter, scoring 21 points as Toronto pulled away to lead 86-71 going into the final 12 minutes.


Pistons: C Andre Drummond took a hard elbow to the face from Valanciunas at the start of the game and remained down on the court. Detroit was forced to burn a full timeout, but Drummond returned to the court. . Henry Ellenson, Detroit’s first-round draft pick last June (18th overall) went scoreless in two minutes of play, while second-round selection Michael Gbinije (49th overall), had two points in two minutes.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (ankle) sat out. . DeRozan started his franchise-record eighth straight season opener, breaking a tie with Carter. . Kyle Lowry‘s basket with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter broke the monopoly of Valanciunas and DeRozan, who had scored all the points up to that point. . First-round draft pick Jakob Poeltl became the first Austrian to play in the NBA. He finished with two points in 13 minutes. . Oct. 26 is the earliest date that Toronto has ever had a home opener. . The Raptors are 13-9 on opening night and have won four straight.


PBT Extra: Spurs showed Warriors have work to do defensively

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Nobody expected what happened Tuesday night in the Bay Area.

If you had said “San Antonio would beat Golden State by five” most people would have said that’s a possibility — but nobody saw a 29-point thrashing. A game where the Spurs were never threatened and where Kawhi Leonard looked like the MVP.

What does it mean? In this PBT Extra I talk about how the Spurs showed the Warriors they have some work to do on the defensive end. The Warriors clearly miss the rim protection and rebounding of Andrew Bogut, and they are going to have to make that up as a team (because Zaza Pachulia is no Bogut). The Warriors also have 81 more games to figure it out.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has it figured out.