It is easy to believe Gregg Popovich is surprised at David Stern signaling he will come down hard on the Spurs for resting everyone this side of George Gervin on Thursday against the Heat. Popovich not only used the same tact in the past without hint of retribution, he was incredulous late last season when asked whether there was concern from the NBA high sheriffs regarding his lineup decisions.
“Why would there be?” Popovich responded.
Because the league has fined teams before for sitting players en masse.
“I don’t know that,” Popovich said.
This was in April, as the Spurs’ R&R policy was becoming a league debate and getting particular attention with the obstacle-course moment of a back-to-back-to-back just before the playoffs. Popovich, long known for conserving minutes of a veteran roster anyway, had a team surging at the right time, in contention with the Thunder for something as valuable as the best record in the Western Conference and home-court advantage until at least The Finals. Yet even then, he was still looking for nights off for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“The first time we did it was in Portland,” Popovich said of the Feb. 21 game with Duncan and Parker resting and Ginobili injured. “For a variety of reasons, we sat our guys. I got a letter from a gentleman who was disappointed because he came to the game with his cousin, they paid money and they wanted to see so-and-so and so-and-so. I wrote him back and I said, ‘If I was in your position, I would write the same letter. I agree with you totally. You’re right. But my priorities are different than yours.’ In the general sense, frankly, everything doesn’t go our way in life. Everything go your way every day? Sometimes things happen. That’s the way it goes.”
The Spurs had their hand slapped last season for listing Duncan as a DNP – Old when Duncan got a March 25 hiatus against the 76ers, and Popovich said he wouldn’t go the snark route anymore, noting how “There are some that didn’t think that was humorous.” It is different, a reporter suggested, when a player can be inactive for a game as opposed to the days of old of needing to list a player as injured whether he was or not.
“Since that rule change,” Popovich said, “I’d be surprised if somebody’s been called like, ‘Why didn’t you play so-and-so today?’ I’ve never gotten a call like that and I don’t know anybody who has.”
Coaches don’t have to phony up a case of the flu or tendinitis.
“They’ve made honest individuals out of us all,” Popovich said. “It’s our opportunity to repent and be honest.”
Now to find out months later what it gets him.