Prior to the Spurs’ road game against the Miami Heat, Popovich made the decision to send Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and even sharp shooter Danny Green, back to San Antonio to rest. This was a Spurs team that was already down Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonoard mind you, meaning San Antonio was set to wage battle against the league’s defending champion, without its six best players.
And the NBA and David Stern, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, weren’t okay with that:
San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich sent stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus key role player Danny Green, on a commercial flight home instead of playing them in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat so they could rest ahead of the Spurs’ Saturday home game against the league-leading Memphis Grizzlies.
NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement before the game started apologizing to fans and saying, “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Could we honestly imagine the league reacting any other way? This game was a nationally televised contest, and fans everywhere were looking forward to such a matchup. Not to mention tens of thousands of them had spent an arm, a leg and a few mortgage payments on tickets.
Obviously, Stern was right. Obviously, action needs to be taken.
Or does it.
As a fan myself, I totally understand where the frustration came from. The four players that Coach Pop sent home were easily the team’s four best players, and Jackson and Leonard accounted for the fifth- and sixth-best on the roster as well. Toss in the fact that this game was being aired on ESPN, and it’s easy—and even justifiable—for frustration to mount.
But at the same time, this is nothing new. Popovich has always attempted to protect his older guys. Heading into the team’s sixth straight road game with a bout against the Memphis Grizzlies on the horizon, it’s easy to see that Pop wasn’t attempting to just roll over and lose in South Beach.
Which is why the Spurs don’t deserve a fine. Sure, it’s disappointing to not see a team’s top players, but at the same time, it’s entirely up to the coach as to who plays and who doesn’t. Let’s also not forget the game against the Grizzlies—a conference foe—is a much bigger one for the Spurs, and easily affects their postseason outlook more.
And if that’s still not enough, how about crediting the team Popovich fielded against the Heat. This group of essential no-names pushed Miami to the final buzzer, nearly prevailing before ultimately falling 105-100. Anyone who saw this game could tell it wasn’t a cakewalk for the Heat.
So, I ask you, especially given the result of the game, who cares that Parker, Ginobili, Duncan and Green weren’t in the building? I mean, I sure as hell don’t. We were treated to a compelling game of basketball anyway, and now we can be sure we get to see the Spurs at full-strength against the league’s best team in the Grizzlies.
Of course, we would have welcomed the opportunity to watch the Spurs play at full-strength in both games, but amidst a grueling schedule and an aging roster, we can’t fault Pop for his unpopular logic. Nor can we fault the disappointment that was experienced by spectators either.
But what we can fault is the league’s attempt to render this an injustice, when all it really is was one coach attempting to keep his team as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.
Now I beg you, where’s the injustice in that?
There isn’t anyway.
And this will hold especially true when the Spurs are once again well-rested and healthy enough to make another exciting playoff run this spring.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.