Last night, the San Antonio Spurs lost a hard-fought battle in Miami to the Heat by a 105-100 final score. It was a close game; Ray Allen hit a game-winning three that put the Heat up for good with only 22 seconds left. It was, in many ways, one of the more entertaining games on the NBA calendar this week.
And yet the NBA’s commissioner is going to impose “substantial sanctions” against the Spurs.
Why? Because San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich didn’t bring four of his starting five players with the rest of the team to Miami.
That’s right: the Spurs scored 100 on the defending-champion Heat, in Miami, without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green. They weren’t even in the building.
Where do we begin…
Every year, teams clinch a playoff spot or win a division title and opt to sit some of their key players down the stretch to avoid injuries. This is true in any sport; the NFL made changes to their scheduling practices so that the final week of the regular season featured in-division games to limit this practice.
The idea of being bad to improve draft position is nothing new, either. Indeed, the Spurs “lost” David Robinson for a year to injury, and landed the top overall pick that turned into… Tim Duncan. Last year, Indianapolis Colts fans started a “Suck for Luck” campaign, begging their team to lose so they could land the top overall pick in the draft to use on then-Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
But now the Spurs are getting publically chastised for implementing this idea for a… regular season game… in late-November…?
As Popovich pointed out, the Spurs have had a tough early schedule. They’ve already had two lengthy road trips, and the game in Miami was their fourth game in five nights. The Spurs are also one of the oldest teams in the league, so resting key players makes sense.
Well, to most people except the league’s commissioner.
The idea that Stern would get involved in this makes me laugh.
The job of a coach is to put his team in the best position possible to win a championship. The Spurs aren’t on the verge of breaking the Bulls record for wins in a season, and the fans in attendance – and watching on national television – were still treated to a very competitive game.
I wouldn’t be shocked if the performance of the backups actually helped the television ratings during the second half of the game last night.
What Popovich – who owns multiple championship rings – is doing here is his job.
For a team with championship experience like the Spurs, one regular season game holds less importance than having a healthy roster in April, May and June. And, by giving his key players take an extra night off before the Spurs play again on Saturday, Popovich is giving his team a better chance to win that game and future contests.
So please, Mr. Stern, worry about the small market teams going broke and the middle market teams losing their superstars because they can’t afford a max deal. Stop busting the balls of one of the game’s great coaches because he decided to play his second string against the defending champions.
In fact, maybe Stern should fine the Heat for giving up 100 to a bunch of hacks…