Column: Stern spurns the Spurs

Ron Rokhy

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 Gregg Popovich’s decision to rest four of the Spurs’ best players in a nationally televised marquee matchup against the Miami Heat last Thursday was more than enough for NBA commissioner David Stern to remind everyone that his authoritarian regime isn’t quite over yet.

Stern, who’s set to retire in 2014 after serving since 1984, released a statement that night saying San Antonio would face “substantial sanctions” for its actions. One day later, he hit the team with a $250,000 fine, claiming they did a disservice to the fans who paid for tickets by choosing to send home Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green.

Although I’m completely against the team receiving a fine,  I also disagree with Popovich’s call because it was not only pointless, it signified he was trying to dodge playing a tough opponent.

Popovich’s argument was that the Spurs were coming off a long road trip which had them playing four games in five nights, and they needed a breather to manage fatigue in order to compete for a championship later on.

The reasoning seems solid at first as the Spurs have the oldest core in the league, but it completely falls apart once the timing of this choice is taken into account. Last I checked, it’s not even 2013 yet. We’ve all seen stars rest throughout the weeks leading up the playoffs, but resting them for a postseason that is half a year away? Nonsensical.

Also, why take the game off against Miami? The Spurs road trip before squaring off against the Heat consisted of games at Indiana, Toronto, Washington and Orlando.

Three out of those four teams are just plain terrible, and one of them (Washington) are the de facto beat ‘em up team of the league as they currently hold a record of 1-13. Why didn’t Pop rest his players then? Surely, San Antonio’s bench – which put up a fight against Miami as they only lost by five – could have easily handled those teams without its starters. They could have been ready and rested for a slugfest against the defending champions, but it didn’t happen.

That’s not to say that the Spurs were scared of Miami, but that Popovich meticulously planned to take the easy road. Is this smart coaching or cheap tactics?

I’d say both, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter – it’s Popovich’s team, so it’s his call. The NBA has no right to dictate what plays a team runs during a game, it has no right to schedule a squad’s practices and it certainly has no right to command a coach – an extremely reputable one at that who’s won four titles since 1999 – what players he’s allowed to play in a game.

Furthermore, it’s very important to note that the game was in Miami. Now, I’m not much for sweeping generalizations, but I can say this with confidence: there aren’t many Spurs fans in Miami. No one was there to watch Duncan and Parker play, they bought tickets to see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – and they did. No harm, no foul.

San Antonio has never been a very marketable team in the first place. They’re described by most fans as “boring,” and are known to take after Duncan and Popovich, who’d both rather not be in the spotlight. They play with no flash, no frills, and are consistently a top regular season team as they’ve made the playoffs 15 straight years (though they’ve only been in the Western Conference Finals once in the last five years).

Stern has always had it out for the the Spurs (he once had Executive Vice President Stu Jackson call one of their players and say he plays “too dirty”) because of their tendency to stay out of the public eye. So Stern he took matters into his own hands and brought them the attention. Along the way, he may have inadvertently set a new precedent: no resting your players allowed.