File photo of NBA Commissioner Stern speaks in New York

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

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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.

Worst dunks in All-Star Dunk Contest history? We got that video.

at Verizon Center on February 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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.
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The All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest has brought some memorable moments — Dr. J and Michael Jordan gliding through the air, Dwight Howard in a Superman cape, Nate Robinson showing off serious hops, through last season and Zach LaVine re-energizing the event with his athletic throw downs.

But there have been some duds, too — and from some elite dunkers. Here is a highlight mix of the worst, which is almost as much fun as the best. Enjoy, then tune in for hopefully more good than bad from Toronto Saturday night on TNT when LaVine and the dunk contest return.

Reports: Cavaliers look to trade for shooters such as Ben McLemore, Kyle Korver

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 28:  Ben McLemore #23 of the Sacramento Kings shoots a free throw during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on January 28, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Pelicans defeated the Kings 114-105. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have looked at their roster, have seen the Golden State Warriors up close, and are thinking they would like to add a shooter on the wing at the trade deadline.

Multiple reports have the Cavaliers actively looking around on the trade market, although whether they can get anything done before the Feb. 18 deadline remains to be seen. At the top of the list is Sacramento’s Ben McLemore, reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cavaliers, among with a handful of other Eastern Conference teams, have strong interest in trading for Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, league sources told cleveland.com…

The Kings have declined overtures for their young 3-point marksman. But with the direction and state of the organization, external pressure could come into play when it comes to potentially moving talent. It’s widely known within league circles that agents have been pushing to get their clients out of Sacramento with the franchise embroiled in dysfunction and turmoil.

This sounds like a leak from an agent more than something the Kings are open to. McLemore swings between showing promise and being disappointing nightly. He’s athletic, he can defend well, he’s shooting 37.2 percent from three this season, but he also takes mental vacations during games (especially on defense), and he can be a turnover machine. The Cavaliers feel if they can get him in their system they can provide a better environment for development than Sacramento.

There are other options, but they may be just as unlikely.

Houston’s Trevor Ariza, Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Washington’s Jared Dudley are all on the Cavaliers’ radar, but landing one of those three is highly unlikely.

If Joe Johnson secures a buyout in Brooklyn, league sources are adamant Cleveland would “snatch him up” for the veteran minimum.

The first three would be good fits, but the price for them will be higher than the Cavs want to pay. The Johnson buyout is a possibility (no way they will move that salary at the deadline), but the buyout is not a sure thing — will Johnson leave money on the table just to get out of Brooklyn?

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst threw out interesting names recently.

Tyreke Evans made some sense until his recent injury ended his season and that idea. Omer Asik makes zero sense. He’s a slower, less athletic, far more expensive version of Timofey Mozgov — why would the Cavaliers want him?

John Wall bangs knee in loss to Bucks, puts All-Star Game in jeopardy

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It was early in the Bucks’ win over the Wizards in the final game before the All-Star break for both teams, John Wall was pushing the ball in transition, and he collided with O.J. Mayo and drew the foul.

He also hurt his knee. Wall played through the pain the rest of the game on his way to 15 points (on 5-of-19 shooting) and 10 assists, but after the game questioned whether he could go in Sunday’s All-Star Game, where he is slated to be a reserve. From Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post.

That said, our own J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com says things may not be that bad.

Wall was voted in by the coaches, if he couldn’t go the league would pick a last-minute replacement. But it’s big for Wall’s brand to be seen on that stage, coach Tyronn Lue can limit his minutes if needed, so I would bet on him being in the game.

Thunder beat Pelicans; teams mourn Ingrid Williams’ death

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Basketball didn’t matter much to Kevin Durant on Thursday night.

Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was involved in a car crash Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and died Wednesday. Monty Williams coached the Pelicans last season before coming to Oklahoma City to help new coach Billy Donovan, so as his two most recent teams met, both played with heavy hearts. A moment of silence was observed before the Thunder’s 121-95 victory.

Durant was distraught earlier in the day while discussing the situation after the team’s shootaround, and he said it remained fresh in his mind after the game.

“We love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important,” Durant said. “It’s definitely something that we love to do, but relationships, family – those things – that’s what’s most important in life, not the latest trends or the fashion world or all that stuff. It’s cool and all that stuff, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love.”

Donovan wasn’t sure how his team would deal with all that happened. Durant scored 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 18 points.

“I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play,” Donovan said.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday each scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Davis, who was emotional on Twitter after learning of the death, still was disappointed in the way the Pelicans played.

“We’ve got to go out there and still compete,” he said. “Go out there and play. We had a job to do tonight.”

Oklahoma City has won 14 of 16 heading into the All-Star break to join Golden State and San Antonio as the only teams with at least 40 wins. The Thunder don’t feel much needs to change to compete for the title.

“No switch-up, just enhance and get better at what we do.”

The Thunder led 62-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Westbrook and 17 from Durant.

Westbrook got his 10th assist on Ibaka’s 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 79-65 lead. He had his ninth rebound with just under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter before heading to the bench for his usual rest and the Thunder ahead 86-68. Oklahoma City led 95-74 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City’s backups expanded the lead early in the fourth quarter, and Westbrook didn’t return.

“I don’t know what we can take out of it other than we competed like crazy in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tried like crazy in the second half, but when they got separation, it was really difficult.”

The Thunder found an escape from pain through playing.

“Basketball, the effect it has, it allows you to forget about things a little bit, and it also brings you together as a group,” Durant said. “Thankful for that.”

 

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Shot 53.5 percent from the field in the first half, but just 43.2 percent for the game. … Were outrebounded 50-31 … Committed just nine turnovers. … Norris Cole scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot 52.3 percent from the field. … Thunder G Andre Roberson remained out with a right knee sprain. … Anthony Morrow scored 10 points. … Enes Kanter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.