|Posted on December 1, 2012 at 7:40 PM|
It’s safe to say that San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich is not your typical NBA coach. He answers two interview questions using a total of four words, he grows Gandalf-the-White-esque beards, and he despises the word “happy.” However, it is undeniable that the man is a genius. He has the third highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA history, and the past two seasons he has turned teams with less than stellar talent into #1 seeds in the Western Conference.
On Thursday night, he controversially decided to rest key players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat by having them not take their talents to South Beach (but actually, they didn’t even make the trip). The Spurs then went on to give the defending NBA champions a run for their money with a starting lineup of Patty Mills, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Tiago Splitter, losing by only five points due to a go-ahead three pointer by Ray Allen with only 23 seconds left in the game.
It is nearly undeniable that what Popovich did was in the best interest of his team, considering the statistic that none of the 100 NBA players to play over 3000 minutes in a season since 2004 have won the championship. On top of the fact that the decision was smart, I personally thought the game that ensued was thrilling, hilarious, and fun to watch. NBA commissioner David Stern thought otherwise, fined the Spurs $250,000, and released this statement yesterday:
"The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. 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.”
First, I strongly disagree with the notion that the Spurs did a disservice to the fans. I think most fans without an invested interest in this game could agree that this was one of the most fun games to watch all season - partly because Charles “Lemme tell you somethin” Barkley was announcing, but mostly because one could marvel at the brilliance of the San Antonio Spurs. Miami fans who were at the game got to drive home safely with a Miami win that they may have otherwise not picked up. And, San Antonio fans were fine with Popovich’s decision because they’d much rather see Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili playing in June than in November.
Now, while I don’t believe that the Spurs did a disservice to the league, simply because the game was so exciting, that point is arguable. However, teams have been resting players for suspicious reasons for several years now without receiving punishment, especially the Spurs, who made this exact same decision twice last year, and once reported Tim Duncan’s reason for sitting out a game as “old.” Additionally, teams have benched players in obvious acts of tanking (trying to lose games to improve draft position), such as the Golden State Warriors, who started Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler, and somebody named Mickell Gladless for the final eight games of last season, while shutting down star player David Lee (for reasons varying from Coach’s Decision to Strained Groin to Stress Reaction). If making fans watch Mickell Gladless for two hours isn’t a disservice to the league, than what Popovich did should certainly be fine.
So it’s not at all as if David Stern has made it clear to NBA teams that resting healthy players is illegal or even something that he would fine teams for doing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. After the Cleveland Cavaliers sat down a healthy Lebron James for the last four games of the 2009-10 season, Stern stated that “a number of teams thought it should be at the sole discretion of the team, the coach, the general manager, and I think it's fair to say I agree with that.”
The fact that Stern has taken a clear stance in the past that what Popovich did does NOT do a “disservice to the league” makes it even fishier that the only time Stern chose to crack down on a team resting players was when it took place during a nationally televised game. This fact reveals that Stern’s decision to fine the Spurs was not at all based on what he said in his statement. He fined the Spurs because Gregg Popovich showed up the David Stern and protested the absurdity of the jam-packed NBA schedule. Stern didn’t fine the Spurs because they “did a disservice to the league and our fans,” Stern fined the Spurs because they made him look bad, and that’s about as low as a commissioner can stoop, even if Roger Goodell does decide to outlaw tackling and start fining NFL defenders for hurting a quarterback’s feelings (oh wait… he’s already done that).
Let’s just say for a second that I’m wrong, and David Stern really did punish the San Antonio Spurs because they “did a disservice to the league.” Would he have still fined them if they had won the game? Absolutely not! Yet, from an entertainment point of view, there would have been no qualitative difference between a Spurs’ win in that game, or the back-and-forth, down-to-the-wire battle that occurred! So, once again, let’s just clarify that Stern’s decision was not at all based on the entertainment of that game.
One last point: If Stern actually wanted to coaches to stop resting healthy players, he could do that in a number of ways. (1) Simply shorten the season by sixteen games (does nobody remember how fun last season’s 66-game season was?) (2) Take those international preseason games off the schedule (he should do this anyway, who needs those?) (3) Stop scheduling teams to play four games in less than 100 hours as San Antonio was forced to do this past week (a no-brainer).
Anyhow, David Stern once again showed that he is a man of complex, irrational decisions. After tenure filled with countless questionable actions such as fixing the 1985 Draft Lottery and essentially handing the Spurs the 2007 NBA Championship on a platter by suspending Amare Stoudemire for Robert Horry’s hockey check, I this most NBA fans can agree that we’ve just about had enough of David Stern.
Do you think the Spurs deserved to be fined? Please comment and share your opinion.
Categories: Dear David Stern