What is the price you pay when you decide to rest your star players on a night where your game is televised nationally? Along with that, your team is also at the very top of the league standings, and you just happen to be playing the defending NBA Champions? Ask the San Antonio Spurs organization or more directly, head coach Gregg Popovich.
This past Thursday, Popovich declared that not only would he be keeping his three star players in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as sharpshooter Danny Green, out of the lineup versus the Miami Heat, but also that he had already sent them home on a plane so that they could begin preparing for their highly-anticipated match-up with the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies the following Saturday.
The Spurs were entering their final game of a six-game road trip and feared more injuries to their already depleted roster. Before the game began, NBA league commissioner David Sternissued a statement saying that there were going to be “substantial sanctions” for the Spurs.
He based this punishment on the fact that Popovich’s decision to keep his star players out of the game robbed the fans of what they expected to see in this highlighted contest and that he did not give fans a fair warning in announcing his lineup adjustment.
The next day after the game had been played and the Spurs “secnd team” had taken the Heat to the brink of a loss no one would let a star-studded team like them live down, Stern announced that the Spurs would receive a $250,000 fine for their actions against the league. This fine raised many questions in regards to coaching methods and how prevalent player safety is to those who schedule and manage NBA play.
My first question is: Can you really blame the Spurs for resting their Big Three, knowing a win was not likely as well as their already notable injuries to key players? My answer is no, you cannot blame them for going with the option they chose.
Most people watching this game expected it to be an entertaining match-up, but knew that ultimately the Heat would dominate and get the win. While the Spurs are capable of playing with the Heat, there is no doubt who the superior team is and the Spurs simply do not have the athletes or playmakers to keep up with the Heat’s lineup.
The Spurs are older, less durable and more or less just biding their time until the playoffs come. They have done this before and have had great success. The Heat, on the other hand, are flourishing and dominating are all of their opponents. I side with coach Popovich and the Spurs as my answer to the first question.
My second question is, what did the Spurs really do wrong in this situation to warrant a fine? The answer here is two-folded, because not only did this decision offend the league, it also offended the fans. The biggest mistake coach Popovich made was choosing this game, of all games, to send his star players home.
When you have a primetime match-up against a team like the Heat, with the bandwagon of fans that they have, you simply cannot for all intensive purposes forfeit the game like he did. The league was upset because this was a game that was supposed to matter and the fans were upset because of the lack of star power on display.
Also, the broadcasting channel came down on the NBA because ratings were much lower than expected. This cascade of complaints had to have driven the commissioner to issue the monetary fine, but did he do the right thing? What happens the next time a team sits a player for a reason other than because of injury? I am sure we will find out soon enough.
In all honesty, fans at the game and around the U.S. had every right to be upset with the Spurs. This was the premier game of the night and NBA fans were waiting to see how two of the league’s powerhouse teams would look when they collided with each other.
I would be very mad if I had a ticket to this game, only to find out the Spurs were not going to send out their best team. As a fan that can make it to only a few games and cannot afford to go all that often, personally this would ruin my experience if it were me.
I do not see Popovich’s decision as necessary and I believe his players should have played. I side with Stern and the Association as my answer to the second question. The least Coach Popovich could’ve done in this case is make his stars sit at the end of the bench in street clothes.
Sending them back to San Antonio early symbolized that he was mailing in the game before his team had even taken the floor. That is asking a lot of the remaining players on the team, but in spite of being shorthanded; they still had a good chance at winning the game and almost pulled off the biggest upset of the season.
My third question is: Did the move to rest Popovich’s Big Three pay off? The answer here is unanimously yes as the Spurs went on to beat the Grizzlies, 99-95 in their next game.
One might argue that the match-up with the Grizzlies was more important because the Spurs needed to flex its muscle against a team within its own conference instead of in its matchup with the Heat, a team it would not encounter until the Finals.
Popovich’s foresight earned him and his team a physical and moral victory over another title-contender in the West. I side with coach Popovich and the Spurs as my answer to the third question.
Indeed, Popovich had a method for his madness, but the cost was substantial enough to make a team think twice about resting healthy players in the future. There is going to be some very interesting debates going forward centering on whether or not fines will be handed down for similar situations to this one.
As the season progresses, I am positive we will see teams employ this same tactic for certain games so that they can prepare for bigger, more important games on their late-season schedules. For a nominally significant cost, the events seemed to favor the Spurs short term.
But however, what will happen next time?