DALLAS – One month has passed since San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich flew four key players home before a nationally televised game at Miami. It rankled commissioner David Stern so that it earned the franchise an unprecedented fine of a quarter-million bucks.
Popovich said Sunday night as the Spurs prepared to face the Dallas Mavericks that he has had no contact with the league, has no idea of any guidelines for resting players and that he’ll operate as he has and rest a player — or players — as he sees fit.
“The league hasn’t come out with specific guidelines to follow on resting players or anything like that, so I don’t really know what the rules are,” Popovich said. “But given that we’ve been fined for it, I would assume that they’re probably thinking about it, working on it in some way, shape or form. But I haven’t had any conversations with the league on, ‘Hey, what are you doing, what’s the deal?’ I haven’t talked to anybody.”
That could make this week rather interesting. The Spurs began a stretch of four games in five nights Sunday at Dallas. Then they’ll come back home to host Brooklyn on Monday. That’s followed by a trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday and on to New York to play the Knicks on Thursday.
“If you’re playing four games in five nights and you need to rest somebody, I think that’s a call that I’ll make,” Popovich said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, I’m sure.”
The Nov. 29 game at Miami was the Spurs’ 10th road game of the month and the last of a six-game road trip that spanned 10 days. After defeating the Orlando Magic by 21 points the night before, Popovich sent home starsTim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus key rotation player Danny Green.
Almost as quickly as Stern learned about the absences in Miami, he issued an apology to fans, saying the Spurs’ decision was “unacceptable” and “substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Stern was particularly perturbed that the Spurs did not notify the league office in advance. Still, the Spurs’ reserves led nearly the entire game until losing the lead and the game in the final minute.
Some suggested that Popovich sent the players home as a not-so-subtle message to the league to express his distaste for the road-heavy schedule. Would Popovich actually risk another significant fine or possible suspension and rest multiple players again? Well, it’s impossible to predict what Popovich might do.
“A lot of cricumstances have to converge to sit two or three players on a given night,” Popovich said. “But it has to do with their bodies, how many hits they’ve taken, how many minutes they’ve played, what the schedule is, all those things.”
Popovich is certainly known for giving his older players nights off, especially Duncan and particularly in a back-to-back situation. He’s hardly the only coach to do so. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle used to give Jason Kidd nights off, typically later in the season, as a way to keep him fresh.
It was also not the first time that Popovich ordered multiple players home early from a road trip. However, the early season timing of this incident, plus it being a nationally televised game against the champs, did not sit well with the league office.
Yet until the league hands down a directive, Popovich doesn’t plan on changing his priorities.
“I don’t know what the guidelines are, do you?” Popovich said. “I don’t know how you plan. I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing for, I don’t know how long now, 16, 17 years, whatever it is. I’m mostly concerned with the health and safety of my players, especially the ones who are a little bit older and when they need rest I’m going to give it to them.”
In February, the AT&T Center is occupied by the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, so the Spurs will be away from Feb. 6-24, a nine-game trip that at least has the luxury of being split up by the All-Star break.
The Spurs play the first five before the break with one back-to-back, plus three games in four nights heading into the break. After it they play four games in six nights with the middle two being a back-to-back.