David Stern: Be careful where you step in punishing Popovich, Spurs
Three times last season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the same game. He’s done it before then as well. And he is far from the only coach to rest multiple key players in a game — Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson and other coaches have done it.
And while fans and media sometimes grumbled — “people paid good money to see those stars” — those moves always came without comment from the NBA.
But when Popovich rested his big three on Thursday night for a much anticipated, nationally televised game against the Miami Heat, fans were upset and David Stern stepped in with a statement.
“I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
This post is not a debate about whether Popovich did the right thing — I think he was well within his rights, our own Brett Pollakoff and plenty fans who tweeted me disagree saying Popovich needed to think of the league and the fans. That is a discussion for another day. (The game being competitive down to the final minute also has little bearing here.)
My point is this — Stern is about to change either NBA rules or at least how the rules are interpreted and enforced by going after the Spurs with some kind of fine and punishment. And once he does that he sets a new precedent that has to be carried out for every team all season long.
And everywhere Stern and the league step with this new rule there are landmines.
With a punishment to the Spurs, the league is saying Popovich’s move — resting healthy players at the end of a road trip even if they are tired — is bad for the overall business of the NBA and cannot be tolerated. While Stern has always been about marketing and league perception first and foremost, he has not ventured into telling coaches how to coach before and a punishment to the Spurs changes that.
David Stern may feel the fan’s frustration from Thursday but he has a lot of questions to think about if he is going to punish the Spurs:
• Why is this situation in Miami a violation of league rules when Popovich did the same thing in Portland last year and it wasn’t? More to the point, how is that line drawn? What is and is not a violation?
• Is it something that is not okay to do in November but would be permitted later in the season, say March? Is the disappointed 12-year-old who doesn’t get to see his favorite players in November justified in his anger but the 12-year-old who has tickets the final week of the season is not?
• Is resting players something that cannot be done for nationally televised games but is okay to do in other games? Does what market the game is in matter? To use the Spurs case as an example, was it wrong to do this in Miami on a Thursday but would have been okay in Orlando on Wednesday? (Be careful in saying publicly that the fans and ratings in big markets are more important that smaller ones.)
• How do you define what players can and cannot be sat? If it is wrong for Popovich to sit major stars like Duncan and Parker, what about if Bucks coach Scott Skiles sits Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings to rest them next week. Is that different? What players can and can’t be sat out? Is this a burden that falls only on teams with superstar players?
• And what happens in a situation like Thursday, where the undermanned team makes a game of it and had a legitimate chance to win? If the concern about the Spurs decision was they were not going to be competitive, that turned out not to be the case.
• What happens when Popovich wants to rest Duncan and to avoid a league fine Duncan suddenly has a minor foot or knee injury? By just a few weeks into any season you could make a case for every NBA player having a minor injury they should rest.
Wherever Stern steps on this issue there are potential landmines. He can’t say its wrong to do this in Miami but fine in Portland or other smaller market. He doesn’t want to get into dictating who a coach can and can’t play, but this skirts up against it. There is no easy way to define it. If he starts trying to define it by being competitive the Spurs were that.
In the past the league did not take action in these situations. Stern is changing how the rules are enforced if he acts to fine the Spurs here, and he is setting a new precedent that is going to apply to every team in the league going forward. He better think this through. Carefully.
Or it might be smarter if he just walked away from it altogether.
Related link: David Stern releases statement apologizing to fans for Spurs resting healthy stars against Heat | ProBasketballTalk
And it's not like anyone can argue that the game was a waste. It was great game to watch. Just wish the Spurs had won!
this just sucks... coach/team organization must care! okay players are "merchandise" but still humans! resting this game is still only 2 days of rest vs memphis.... what if 36yo star like duncan suffers stress injury or manu hurt his back again? tony played all summer... green is the team leader in minutes played! etc etc....
well if emperor stern fine spurs... im ok if next time... all of them suddenly injured during practice... or if pop play them 3 minutes and then sit them all for good...
This is nothing more than a move by David Stern to flex his muscles, because of the perceived notion that somehow what Pop did, would cause the league to lose money. I hope the league has an entity (other than the commissioner himself) that reviews these "sanctions" and determines whether or not it should be overturned. It would be different if Stern warned Pop and the Spurs that what they did was wrong and any similar actions in the future would result in fines or suspensions. Stern did no such thing. Instead, he turned a blind eye to it until the Spurs played the Miami Heat. Is it a coincidence that Stern gets upset when the Spurs did this against the Miami Heat? I don't think so. Stern cannot retire soon enough. I will help his a$$ pack.
That was a well thought of all angled articel - Stern should read it!
I am truly surprised by Stern's actions on this one. Whether you like the guy or not, he has always taken a well-calculated and well-timed position where he can't possibly lose. This time, he has taken a position in haste that he can't possibly win. The bottom line argument comes down to people's health and well being vs League success. League success can not possibly win the popularity contest and further, the entire event may have actually made the NBA more exciting on this given evening. What is even more out of character for Stern was that he made the announcement preceding the game and not afterwards after accessing the possible damage if any.
Classic mistake in business. Speaking out of emotion before careful evaluation. In the real world these folks go out of business very quickly.
funny thing, the only ever time that stephen a smith made sense and i agree with him: i see both sides. if jordan got rested and i finally got a ticket to see the bulls, i would be so sad!
but then again, the FUNNIEST thing about this is.... we aint talking about jordan!
since when were people lined up to see DUNCAN? and/or the BORING spurs????
i thought the spurs were snooze city. i woulda assumed more people would tune in to see the young kids running up and down right?
suddenly the spurs are ShowTime and everyoens lining up to watch? hahahahaha
Thinking about it from the Spurs side of view. It is real comical how the Stern reacted that much out this Pop's sitting his 4 SPURS players.
Sadly Stern was looking at it from the HEAT HYPE view!:smirk
Yes, credit too the, "who wants to see the boring Spurs, anyway?" quote. Make your mind up folks.
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