What got to Stern this time: It’s TNT
Posted on November 29, 2012 at 11:24 pm by Buck Harvey i
Column by Buck Harvey
MIAMI — David Stern said he wanted to “apologize to all NBA fans,” and that was a start. Someone needed to be contrite about a schedule that matched the most rested vs. the most tired for a national television audience.
But Stern has never apologized for a crushing schedule. He cares about marketing and television, which is why he decided to get into the business of coaching Thursday night.
When that’s not his business.
Gregg Popovich has gutted his roster before on behalf of the larger goal, and those who have disagreed with him in the past still have an argument. Other teams face similar schedule pinches, after all, and they have kept playing.
Then there’s the point that Popovich has made in the past and did again Thursday. “If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game,” he said, “I’d want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed. So I understand that perspective.”
Saying this Thursday, the media surrounding him, there was no defiance. Popovich ? looked uncomfortable.
But he quickly added he hopes others would see his perspective, too, that it’s his job to take care of his team. And that’s why he reacted as he did. “It’s pretty logical,” he said.
He said something similar in 2009 when he benched the Big Three and another (playing the role of Danny Green then was Michael Finley). They were in Denver then, playing a rugged Nuggets’ team, and they played as the leftover Spurs did Thursday.
The Nuggets barely pulled away at the end, as the Heat did. And George Karl looked as frustrated then as Erik Spoelstra did Thursday night.
The next day in the league office, they cracked a few jokes about Popovich and his JV team. “Pop is the leading candidate,” kidded one, “for employer of the month.”
The NBA left it at that. They didn’t call the Spurs, and Stern never said a thing about “substantial sanctions.”
As for unacceptable decisions: The Nuggets made more of those that night.
The same happened last spring when Popovich again sat his best. According to USA Today Sports, the next commissioner, Adam Silver, said this in response to it at the time: “Strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams.”
As it should be. Stern can’t tell Popovich who to play and when to play them, anymore than he can dictate minutes. That’s why the league has allowed Popovich to do this in the past.
But Thursday was different for Stern. This was TNT, with the defending champs, with a game that had been advertised as a potential Finals matchup. This is the kind of marketing night that Stern built his empire on, and there was Popovich, often resistant to the Stern way of doing things, undercutting the selling of LeBron.
Popovich and the Spurs said after the game they hadn’t heard about Stern’s “unacceptable decision” statement. Once told, they wished even more that one more 3-pointer had kicked in.
“Man,” Matt Bonner said, “it would’ve been great if we won.”
Even in losing, Popovich looked like a coach with a plan. His subs played the system and with confidence; each might be better for it. Now, all of them finally get off this 10-day road trip for a divisional showdown with Memphis with four starters rested.
Ray Allen said he’d never seen anything like it. But after he needed to throw in five points in the final seconds for the win, he said Popovich “knows what he’s doing.”
Popovich has also been consistent over the years, and now Stern isn’t. He will fine the Spurs not because of what they did, but when they did it.
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