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David Stern has done it again. The NBA commissioner’s latest misguided show of power was his decision to fine the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for doing a “disservice to the league” by resting four starters for last Thursday’s game at Miami. In that game, Gregg Popovich, one of the NBA’s most decorated coaches, managed to show up Stern by coaching a team of backups to within five points of what would have been a huge upset victory.
The decision to give the starters a day off was nothing new for San Antonio (remember last season when the official reason for Tim Duncan missing a March game was that he was “old”), but the game was on national television between two of the league’s best teams. Stern petulantly announced “substantial sanctions” for the Spurs before the game had been played. The issue here is that Popovich was doing what was best for his team, which is doing his job, and the reigning Coach of the Year usually does his job very well.
Thurday’s game was the sixth of a nine-game road trip for the Spurs, who had won the previous five matchups against Eastern Conference teams, including a double-overtime win at Toronto on Tuesday. Popovich had every reason to give his stars a rest, especially since they would have just one day off before returning home to face the Western Conference-leading Grizzlies. With 82 games in the season, it’s only natural for Popovich to want to keep Duncan, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker (all of whom are on the wrong side of 30) as fresh as possible.
It could be argued that also sending the 25-year-old Danny Green home was going too far, but Green had started every game, is averaging more than 30 minutes per contest and had played 48 minutes in the previous game in the Toronto. Above all, Stern simply had no business telling a coach how to run his team, especially one like Popovich. San Antonio has finished in the top two in its division every year that Duncan has been on the team under Pop, and they’ve won four championships in that span. That’s 15 years of dominance- they must be doing something right.
By fining the Spurs, Stern has set a precedent for other teams with veteran stars such as the Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks. Boston coach Doc Rivers was one of the most vocal opponents of Stern’s decision, calling it “overdone”. Kevin Garnett (36), Paul Pierce (35) and Jason Terry (35) are prime candidates to see their minutes go down as the season progresses. The Celtics will close out 2012 with three California games in four days, and will play another five Western Conference teams in seven days at the end of February. Surely Rivers would be justified in resting some starters during those stretches, as well as towards the end of the regular season when the playoff picture becomes clearer.
NBA coaches know what’s best for their teams and what they need to do to stay competitive come playoff time. The threat of fines should not change the way NBA coaches operate. Affecting the way coaches manage their personel would be, in Stern’s words, a “disservice to the league.”