Each week, we ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Here’s an extra one on the hottest topic of the day.
What do you think of Gregg Popovich’s decision to rest four key players — including Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili — Thursday night in Miami?
Steve Aschburner: I didn’t like Gregg Popovich‘s moves in the past and I had a sense in April that we hadn’t seen the last of them. The league should have rebuked him then before it became a full-blown Popgate, but that doesn’t mean it can’t start now.
Was this right according to Popovich’s priorities? OK, on a micro level. But on every macro level, this was wrong.
Wrong in terms of the integrity of the game, which is the foundation of the Spurs’ championship ambitions. Wrong for ticket buyers in Miami or any other city in which the stunt gets pulled.
Wrong pragmatically – what if, like the Celtics Wednesday, the leftover Spurs lost one player to ejection and a couple to injury during the game. Wrong for TNT, which pays huge rights fees to broadcast the NBA’s showcase night. Wrong for the NBA product overall, too, in terms of something farcical in place of a potentially great matchup. If Pop didn’t like the schedule, then be Mr. Honest (he’s getting praised for not lying about phony injuries) and criticize that. But a TNT game does matter more because it attracts more casual NBA fans.
Fran Blinebury: It’s not about taking away Pop’s control over his own team. The issue is the integrity of the game and, as much as nobody wants to hear it, the business of the league. Many teams, the Heat included, have tiered pricing for tickets. That means they charge more for games against elite teams, of which the Spurs are one. Injuries cannot be avoided, but a blanket holdout of All-Star players is simply a slap in the face of customers.
As for the complaint about grueling schedules — back-to-backs, four games in five nights, etc. — please, spare me. When the 1971-72 Lakers set the all-time record of 33 straight wins, they played several sets of three games in three nights in three cities. And they flew commercial, not on cushy charter flights. Is the 82-game schedule too long, too often crazy? Yes. Of course, the solution is to play a shorter schedule, which would produce better basketball, but fewer home games and less revenue for owners. That’s doable if the players and coaches all take a commensurate salary cut. Let me know when pigs fly and that happens.
I do believe it is wrong for David Stern to come down with a fine or punishment of Pop and/or the Spurs in this instance, because the league has winked and chuckled and allowed this practice to go on previously. It shouldn’t be an overreaction to a plum TNT game. This should be the red line, the declaration that the practice stops now and will be clearly punished in the future.
Jeff Caplan: David Stern has legit concerns: Sponsors belly up to the bar with multi-million-dollar television contracts and the golden goose lines the pockets of players — and coaches — with set-for-life salaries. Then there’s the paying customer who couldn’t know he’d paid regular-season prices for a game Spurs coach Gregg Popovich treated like the preseason, regardless of how hard his subs played.
Fine, but show me the rule that states a coach must play, or dress, or even send all his players to the arena. Maybe there should be one. It would have been nice for Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginoboli, and old man (hardly) Danny Green to at least be in the building. But I can’t find the rule that says they had to be. And look, the schedule stinks — last of a 10-day, six-game road trip, fourth game in five nights and the Spurs play again Saturday against division rival Memphis. The Heat were off since Saturday. So what kind of competitive game did the league think it would get anyway? Probably not one half as competitive as the one they got.
And what if the Spurs had played the champs on national TV on Wednesday and Pop sent the gang home for the road finale at Orlando? Just a meaningless November game? Yep, we certainly wouldn’t be having this debate. Pop did what he believes is best for his team in the long run.
With apologies to Stern and, I suppose, the fans, until there’s a rule that states otherwise, Pop can manage his team as he sees fit.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Unfortunate for fans in Miami who paid big bucks to see the real Spurs. Unfotunate for TNT viewers who wanted the real matchup. But Gregg Popovich did his job. While the moral debate is a good one, his responsibility is to win championships. If he feels his actions Thursday put San Antonio in a better position for that end result, he should know. Popovich played within the rules. He had made similar lineup decisions in the past without being told he was crossing a line of integrity. He owes fans in every city something 82 times every regular season. But he owes Spurs fans the best chance to win a title. Anything less would be a drag on the integrity of the game.
John Schuhmann: I blame the schedule maker. Spurs and Heat on TNT sounds awesome at first. But when one team is playing its fourth road game in five nights and the other is playing just its first game in those same five nights, you’ve got a real potential stinker on your hands. Teams just aren’t as good when they’re not rested, and I imagine that the Heat would have won by a lot more if the Spurs played their tired stars.
I know it’s impossible to give each team a day of rest before every national TV game, but the discrepancy between San Antonio’s rest and Miami’s rest was too much if you really wanted to showcase those two teams on that particular night. The networks pay a lot of money for those showcase games, and it’s up to the league (via the schedule it creates) to make sure they’re getting the best of both teams.
So I guess I’m taking Popovich’s side here.
Sekou Smith: I’m siding with Pop this time and every other time in the future when he makes a decision on what to do with his team. And this has more to do with folks in the stands and board rooms always trying to do the coach’s job for him, be it in pee-wee football, college hoops, European football or the NBA.
Pop is the man in charge of his team, not me, you, Heat fans or anyone at the league office. Do I feel for the kid who’s never been to a game and showed up looking for Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and (to a lesser extent) Green? Sure. But this is as good a time as any to teach him that you don’t always get what you pay for.
Furthermore, to dismiss the Spurs’ reserves the way everyone did before the game was played is a disservice to the professionalism and competitive nature of the guys who did suit up. All of this moral outrage over him resting guys and sending them home is ridiculous and completely overblown.
Please send my “substantial sanction” to Pop in San Antonio.