SBD/November 30, 2012/Franchises

David Stern Says Spurs Will Face "Substantial Sanctions" After Sitting Starters

Parker (l) and Duncan (c) were given the night off by Popovich
The NBA plans to make the Spurs "pay for resting four stars" in Thursday's 105-100 loss to the Heat, according to the AP. The decision by coach Greg Popovich "irked NBA Commissioner David Stern." Stern said, "I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming." Stern's statement was released "roughly the same time as tip-off in Miami for the nationally televised game" on TNT. Popovich before the game said that he "decided to sit his core," including C Tim Duncan, Gs Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, when he "saw how challenging this particular part of the schedule was for his team." Thursday's matchup "ended a six-games-in-nine-nights swing for the Spurs, who won their first five on the trip." Popovich before the game said, "Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing. ... If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I'd want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren't there, I'd be disappointed. So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is -- the basketball team and what's best for it" (AP, 10/29). In San Antonio, Jeff McDonald wrote "fans were furious" at Popovich’s decision to rest four of his top five scorers for such a high-profile game. Basketball purists "took to Twitter to express dismay." Stern was "no doubt discouraged about what Popovich’s lineup decisions might do to TNT’s television ratings" It is a move Popovich "has made before, including three times during the lockout-compressed 2011-12 season, without drawing the attention of the league office" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 11/29).

A WEIGHTY DECISION: ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst wrote, "The NBA's most powerful man and its most respected and iron-willed coach plunged into an unexpected battle of wills Thursday over a basic tenet: A coach can decide what is best for his team." The Spurs were playing their 11th road game in November, and two league sources said that the Spurs "never had been questioned in the past for Popovich's periodic decisions to rest players and not take them on the road." Popovich has "done it a handful of times dating back to the 2008-09 season but never before in November." He said that he "made the decision about Thursday night when the schedule came out in July, and it didn't matter the opponent or the interest level of the game" (ESPN.com, 11/29). In N.Y., Benjamin Hoffman notes the move "was not unexpected, but it was done in such a callously indifferent way that it drew a lot of attention from all the wrong places." The decision "probably irked TNT, which was televising the game." It also "undoubtedly disappointed fans in Miami who had come out to see a battle of first-place teams." But no one "seemed angrier" than Stern, whose "harsh sentiment was surprising because Popovich's decision was hardly without precedent" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/30). USA TODAY's Zillgitt & Amick note it "would not be the first time the league punished a team for resting players," as the Lakers were fined $25,000 for resting two starters in the final game of the '90 regular season (USA TODAY, 11/30).

OVER REACTION? ESPN.com's Michael Wallace writes, "It's likely Stern was embarrassed at the product the Spurs put on the court before a national audience in what was supposed to be a marquee matchup between teams that could meet again in the NBA Finals." Stern "made a sympathetic figure out of an ornery coach" and his response was a "knee-jerk reaction that seemed geared toward pacifying a major television broadcasting partner more so than it was designed to deter the next coach from resting a star veteran for maintenance" (ESPN.com, 11/30). In San Antonio, Buck Harvey noted Stern "has never apologized for a crushing schedule." Stern "can't tell Popovich who to play and when to play them, anymore than he can dictate minutes." But Thursday was "different for Stern. This was TNT" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 11/29). FOXSPORTSFLORIDA.com's Chris Tomasson writes Popovich's actions "were excessive," but Stern "should have waited until at least after [the] game before revealing his thoughts." His "sharply worded statement made Popovich look like the more sympathetic figure in all of this, and Stern’s statement could have been tempered after it was seen how competitive the Spurs were against the Heat" (FOXSPORTSFLORIDA.com, 11/30). CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote, "Stern the lawyer committed the cardinal sin of lawyering. He went to trial with a case he couldn't win." Berger: "What section of the rulebook did Popovich violate? (None; I checked)" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/29).
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