San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich sat four key players on his team for yesterday’s game at the Miami Heat, so what does NBA commissioner David Stern say? “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Some backstory: as of last night, the Spurs had played four games in five days, and five in less than a week. Not only that, but every last one of them has been on the road, with San Antone bouncing all over the east coast since the day before Thanksgiving. These aren’t college games, either, at 48 minutes instead of 40, and college teams don’t play nearly as much as NBA teams do. Popovich, as is his prerogative as head coach, made a player personnel decision to sit his players instead of putting them on the court against the Heat so that they could be fresh for a critical game against Memphis at home on Saturday.
Stern would have none of it. He ginned up some faux outrage over the paying fans in Miami getting screwed out of a good game (and from all indications, it was still an exciting game, anyway) with San Antonio’s full complement of star players.
That linked ESPN article notes that last year, Popovich avoided discipline for the same thing in a game against Utah. Here’s the real question: Why are we talking about discipline at all?
Quite frankly, who the hell is David Stern to tell Gregg Popovich how to coach his team, and who at the NBA scheduling office decided to give them this kind of non-stop screw job in the first place? If I paid to go to the game and was hoping to see the Spurs’ main corps of players, I’d be disappointed, but I would have lucked out because it was a close game in the final minute.
If I were, say, going to a Yankees-Red Sox afternoon game (after a night game) and public address announcer Paul Olden’s lineup didn’t have Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano, and then Joba Chamberlain came in to close instead of a resting Mariano Rivera, I’d be down, but I wouldn’t be outraged. As a matter of fact, I bought a ticket some years ago hoping to see Jeter break Lou Gehrig’s hit record, but he got hurt right before, and I got over it. Baseball is at least analogous in that they play almost every day, much like the Spurs did this week. Ultimately, it’s hard to say the Heat fans got hosed out of anything on Thursday night, because it’s not like LeBron and company had to sit, too, and the game was close.
I can’t tell you for certain that this was a premeditated “eff you” by Popovich to the ticketed masses in Miami, nor can a November regular season game be twisted as an affront to the integrity of the league. For Stern to say it was “completely unacceptable” and then say he’s going to somehow punish the Spurs for resting players during a tough stretch is a preposterous overreaction. Popovich’s duty is not to play worn-out players just to appease fans in a road game: it’s to keep his players as fresh as possible for the long season. This should not be a controversy.