The NBA is still David Stern’s league for a little while longer and while he still running the show, you better play by his rules.
San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich and his team learned this the hard way after Popovich sent stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Danny Green on a commercial flight home to rest instead of playing them against the Miami Heat, a game that was nationally televised Thursday night.
According to an ESPN report, Stern issued a statement before the game saying, “”I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Popovich’s decision was made in an attempt to rest his team, which is comprised of mostly older players compared to the rest of the league, after they had played four games in five nights and 11 games on the road in November alone. He actually made the call in July when the schedule was released, anticipating the situation.
“I don’t think Pop was in the wrong; it’s not in the rules to tell you you can’t send your guys home,” said LeBron James, who scored 23 points in the Heat’s 105-100 win over the Spurs. “The commish made his decision and everybody else will deal with it.”
By everyone else, he means the Spurs, which have actually pulled this move before and avoided punishment. NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver let the Spurs off the hook for holding its top players out of three games last season, including a road bout with Utah, for which Ginobli, Parker and Duncan were sent home.
“The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams,” Silver told NBA.com in April with the qualifier that it was a lockout-shortened season. “And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second guess.”
Silver might be OK with it, but not Stern, especially in such a high-profile, televised game. He’s thinking of viewership, ad revenue, and from the perspective of the ticket-holders who want to see the league’s top players. On the other hand, Popovich’s job is to serve his team’s best interests in a long, often grueling NBA season. They are two different arguments and two approaches, but the difference is, Stern gets the last say.
“If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I would want them to see everybody, and if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed,” Popovich said. “So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective. My priority is the basketball team and what is best for it.”
We will have to wait and see if Stern follows through with the sanctions and exactly how severe they will be. It appears that one loss shouldn’t hurt the Spurs too badly (they are currently 12-4) and if the team looks rested and sharper against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
Do you think it should be the coach’s decision to run his team as he sees fit? Or do you think Stern is right in that the fans deserve to get what they paid for? Sound off in the comments section and let us know what you think.