Is the NBA justified in fining San Antonio Spurs for resting stars?
Spurs vs Heat. A match to be relished, or so we thought. The Spurs decide to send four of their players back home at the last minute. And the hammer was quick to fall from the league.
If David Stern were in charge of a old age home, the population would dwindle quickly. I can picture him pushing the inhabitants for a morning workout yelling “Step on it Gomer Pyle!” Now that may seem like the knee jerk reaction everyone is having after the league fined the Spurs $250,000 for sending four of their players home towards the end of a road trip. Three of those players are over thirty. This comes across as a extreme step by the league. Management of players ought to be at a team’s discretion. On the other hand, the league is responsible for the product which is put on the floor. Popovic sent Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green back home and left a depleted squad to battle the Heat.
NBA Commissioner David Stern stated: “The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
Last minute call
So if the Spurs had made the information public in a timely manner, would that have made the offense less egregious? Well the on court offense became egregious without the stars but even if this decision was made public early on, it would not have made much of a difference in anything except the interpretation of this issue by the league.
It affects the quality of the product
The fans who buy season tickets, those who spend their time commuting to and from the arena, they came to watch a quality competition. They came to see Duncan, Parker and Ginobili match up against the Miami Heat. Not to see Kwahi Leonard and Tiago Splitter battle LeBron and company. Now if this was a late season game the fans might have been prepared for the absence of stars, come playoff time its normal for teams to rest out star players to prevent injuries and get their legs fresh. But this was a game in November.
A national TV match
One fact which has probably drawn the ire of the league the most is that this match was a nationally televised one. This was the Spurs’ only visit to Miami this season. Fans were denied on both counts, the Heat fans who came to watch a contest vs the Spurs and those watching at home and paying for the nationally televised match. It almost seems like Popovic was willfully scorning the league as he could have rested the four stars in their previous match versus the Orlando Magic instead of this one. Magic are a pushover anyway.
What’s the point of this?
“I had no idea what their mindset was. And I’m spending zero time trying to figure it out,” Heat coach Spoelstra said. He was probably miffed that even a sub standard squad came within 5 points of defeating his Heat. His players were more forgiving, “Pop has won a lot games. He’s won championships. He knows what he’s doing.” Ray Allen said. True that. Popovic has a .681 winning percentage in the regular season and .605 in the playoffs having led the Spurs to 4 NBA titles.
The Spurs have had similar run in with the league earlier. Back in 2007 the league had fined the Spurs $50,000 for not making players available to news reporters during the playoffs. That was a more transparent issue. In this one, in a statement released by the league it was said: “The Spurs’ actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.”
Now we can debate endlessly if a team serves the league’s interest by doing what it takes to win or by putting their stars on the floor irrespective of the schedule or injuries the stars may have sustained. The job of the coach is to do whatever it takes to win a championship. If by some convoluted logic the coach decides that its not worth playing his best players versus the best team in the league, well that’s the coach’s decision to make.
The impact of an act like this shouldn’t be judged by the logic behind it. One should assess the impact the action has. If the Spurs’ second string team had rolled over and not provided a competitive matchup, that would have been ugly for the game. Instead they almost beat the Heat at Miami. “Popovich has done this before and he knows what’s best for his team. It’s his job to manage his players and do whatever he’d like. He’s thinking about the big picture.”- said Shaq
Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn’t think the penalty would keep teams from resting players. “I don’t like it. It’s a tough one. You’ve got to coach your team to win in the long run and you have to do whatever you need to do. If that’s sitting players, you sit players.”- said Doc Rivers
This action comes right on the heels of the Suns announcing the “satisfaction guaranteed night” versus Dallas, where if the fans were disappointed they were offered a rebate. So on one hand we have a team which is a bottom feeder and is going out of its way to appease fans, on the other hand we have the Spurs who are among the best in the league and seemingly care more about winning in the long term than appeasing the fans in the short term.
For me, the Spurs were wrong in sending back the four stars. On the other hand for the league to take a hand in how a team runs itself seems close to meddling, doubly so since the sanctions by the league were in the form of a hefty fine.
Here are the votes on this from 30,339 fans who voted on this issue at NBA.com:
A $250,000 Fine For Resting Healthy Players…Did Commissioner Stern Do The Right Thing?
Right on the Money. Commissioner Stern had to send a message.
18.82% (5,710 votes)
Too harsh. Anything in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars is just overkill.
16.21% (4,919 votes)
Could have and should have been worse.
5.16% (1,564 votes)
Shouldn’t have been any fine in the first place.
59.81% (18,146 votes)