Gregg Popovich sent his best players home prior to San Antonio’s game in Miami. The Spurs head coach felt his aging team needed a break after a long trip. For that, and for keeping it a secret, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by the NBA.
Commissioner David Stern didn’t appreciate Popovich’s ploy to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green. Stern said the Spurs “did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
“The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case,” Stern said in a statement. “The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
Teams are required to report as soon as they know a player will not travel because of injury. The league’s statement said the Spurs were in violation of league policy reviewed with the board of governors in April 2010 against resting players in a manner “contrary to the best interests of the NBA.”
The issue of resting healthy players has been debated before, though usually at the end of the season, not a month into it. What really made Stern’s blood boil is the fact that the Spurs decided to trot out their B team in a nationally televised game against the defending NBA champion Heat. Stern is all about TV exposure and loves parading his stars for major sponsors. The executives at TNT likely didn’t like the idea of watching Patty Mills, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, and Tiago Splitter going head to head against Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James.
Popovich has been using the rest strategy for some time. He even joked about it last season when the box score listed Duncan as “old” as the reason he didn’t play. Resting Duncan and Ginobili is somewhat excusable since they are on the down side of their careers. But Parker is only 30 years old and Green has only played in 110 NBA games so they can’t be that tired. Saving older players down the stretch is a common theme especially when home-court advantage has been locked up, but you don’t — and can’t — rest them 17 games into the season. It destroys the competitive spirit of the game and it sends cheapens the league.
Popovich has the right to rest whomever he believes is running on empty, but it doesn’t mean he’s right. Doc Rivers has the same issue with an older Boston Celtics squad, but he goes about the right way. He monitors Kevin Garnett’s minutes and only plays him six minutes each quarter. Popovich should adopt the same approach.
If a player is healthy enough to play the previous game, then he should dress up and play the following game. Pop could have easily played Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Green against Miami. Duncan is enjoying a superb season, averaging 18 points and nearly 10 rebounds, showing no signs of wearing down. Ginobili is only averaging 23 minutes per night, so he’s not worn down either. Parker and Green sitting out was simply inexcusable.
Popovich’s decision to rest his starters was a message to Stern and the schedule makers. The Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights and sixth in nine days, all on the road.
“Popovich has done this before and he knows what’s best for his team,” former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal said on TNT. “It’s his job to manage his players and do whatever he’d like. He’s thinking about the big picture.”
Another former player turned TNT analyst, Steve Kerr — who played for Popovich — also defended the franchise’s actions.
“If the NBA punishes the Spurs for sitting players, it opens up a huge can of worms,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a serious legal challenge for the league.”