The flight that took Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Danny Green to Memphis last week turned out to be one heck of an expensive flight not only because airplane tickets aren’t super cheap these days, but because head coach Gregg Popovich‘s decision to send them home to Texas instead of Miami cost the San Antonio Spurs organization a whopping $250,000 due to fines issued out by the NBA league office.
Commissioner David Stern qualified this massive fine by claiming that the Spurs’ actions prior to their one and only match-up against the Heat this season was a “disservice to the league and its fans,” because they rested their Big Three (and Green) “without informing the Heat, the media or the league office in a timely manner.”
Several days later, the Spurs are still deciding on whether to appeal the fine or the pay the piper. Now before I go into rights and wrongs and finger-pointing, there are a few things that are worth noting and understanding.
As the Commissioner of the NBA, Stern has a plethora of responsibilities, but none come second to the importance of maintaining the integrity of the league and preserving the NBA brand. This means that he’s obligated to levy fines and issue out sanctions in order to protect teams, franchises and players.
But most importantly, he’s obligated to protect the game for the fans because let’s be honest: the NBA cannot exist without those of that are willing to devote time and money to NBA basketball.
On the flip side, Popovich’s main priority as an NBA head coach is obviously making sure that his squad wins games and stays competitive for championships because if his team “screws the pooch” per se, his job security is in jeopardy not only because he puts the Spurs franchise at risk of losing games, but because he puts the Spurs at risk of losing fans.
Therefore, Pop must manage his team in a fashion that ensures the Spurs ability to contend for a championship at all times. In other words, a good portion of this whole debate comes down to fans, economics, the line of authority and the athletes themselves.
First things first, there are no rules or guidelines against a head coach resting his players on any given night. In fact, coach Popovich has done this before without having his hand slapped by the league. Just last April, he decided to rest his Big Three against the Utah Jazz during an 11-game winning streak.
However, let’s not forget about last season’s condensed schedule and the toll it had on veteran teams across the NBA. Also, it’s important to point out that last season’s match-up in Salt Lake City didn’t feature two NBA contenders, and it wasn’t aired on NBA on TNT. Two major differences between that game and last week’s contest in Florida.
Furthermore, even though the Spurs didn’t suit up their best players in Miami last week, that game was a very competitive contest that came down to a deciding Ray Allen jumpshot in the closing 25 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Now if you’re a diehard Spurs fan, you had to be impressed with your team’s effort considering the circumstances because your second- and third-stringers were outplaying the defending champs in their building. With this, it is a testament to the Spurs’ future, which looks surprisingly bright.
Now obviously, a Heat fan might argue that Miami wasn’t up to the challenge and they weren’t amped to play Nando De Colo, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal (which the three combined for 53 points), but the fact of the matter is that any NBA athlete can compete on any given day and the Heat almost embarrassed themselves at home.
In my opinion, the only fans that have a right to be truly angry are the Spurs fans that actually bought tickets to see their squad play in Miami because they were robbed of an opportunity to watch the three most decorated Spurs athletes play together in person during potentially their last season together in San Antonio.
I’m not saying that the rest of us can’t be disappointed, but let’s be honest here: Heat fans shouldn’t be infuriated about Miami pulling off a win at home, and the rest of us that were glued to our TVs shouldn’t be mad over an entertaining, close ball game that was decided in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.
Was there less star power on the court? Yes. Did it affect the complete integrity of the game? Not exactly. Regardless, Stern chose to take serious action against the Spurs. I don’t totally disagree with him in terms of protecting all of the NBA fans from disappointment.
What I have a problem with is the sheer monetary amount of the fine, and the arguable abuse of power that Stern seems to utilize based on broad definitions of authority.
Obviously, the commissioner has the right to fine individuals and franchises in order to protect the NBA, but tagging San Antonio with a $250,000 fine for practically preserving their chances at winning more ball games by maintaining the health of their most talented and most veteran players seems petty considering that the Spurs didn’t criticize the officiating, their opponents, the league office or any NBA entity in general.
They didn’t go on a rant in the press room like Mark Cuban has done in recent years (he was fined $500,000 several years ago) and they didn’t get involved in any on-court altercations or fist fights like the “Malice in the Palace.” Frankly, if Parker, Ginobili and Duncan had all been seriously injured in Miami last week, that would’ve hurt the league’s best interests more than just flying them to Memphis.
By maintaining the Big Three’s health, coach Popovich is arguably protecting the NBA’s best interests because the Spurs are one of the NBA’s most prized franchises in terms of ticket sales and fandom, and any move by Popovich that would jeopardize their opportunity to win a title hurts the NBA and Spurs fans.
According to reports, the league’s decision to fine San Antonio was based on an encroachment of an NBA policy that dealt with sitting/resting players in a way that was “contrary to the best interests of the NBA.” In other words, any action deemed “contrary” to the NBA’s best interest could be subject to fines, sanctions and a league-wide spanking.
That statement is clearly open to interpretation, and that’s the problem. It’s not our interpretation or the coach’s interpretation, it’s David Stern’s, and in my opinion, these fines had nothing to do with the actual game at hand; it had everything to do with the TV-ratings, the sponsors and the league’s finances.
Do you really think the Spurs would’ve been fined if they rested their Big Three against the Portland Trail Blazers if it wasn’t aired on national TV? Doubtful. Unfortunately, Stern seemed to forget about the most important people in this whole equation: the athletes that drive the NBA’s operational engine and the players’ overall well-being.
I mean what would a Spurs playoff team look like without Manu, Tony and Timmy-D? I don’t necessarily disagree with Stern’s decision to protect NBA policies and his league, because those are in place to maintain the NBA brand.
But where does the line of authority start and end? How did they come up with $250,000? Can’t they be more specific?
The NBA might’ve opened up a can of worms with this one, folks.