HANG TIME MIDWEST BUREAU — With his Spurs facing three games in three nights on a West Coast road trip this week — at Golden State, at the L.A. Lakers, at Sacramento — San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has an opportunity to get creative again with his roster deployment. However he decides to play it — or whoever he decides not to play — is evidently perfectly acceptable to the league.
NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that the Spurs would face no fines, suspensions or other reprisals for Popovich’s decision last week to withhold the services of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from San Antonio’s game at Utah.
“I think this is a unique season,” Silver said. “And the fans understand that competitive strategy is part of what goes into coaching this year. It’s unique and teams like the San Antonio Spurs are playing to win a championship, and I think fans understand that.”
Popovich said he picked that game “pretty much when the schedule came out” and didn’t even have them travel with the club to Salt Lake City. The league was fine with that, Silver said.
“The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams. And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second-guess.”
For the record, the Spurs have held Duncan, Ginobili and Parker out of the same game seven times in their 10 seasons together; their record is 0-7, with a losing margin of 15 points. Last week’s loss at Utah was closer — the Jazz trailed by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter — but Popovich also did it at Portland Feb. 21 and his team got trounced 137-97.
The collective shrug at NBA HQ seems a little surprising, considering the response the Lakers got a couple decades ago when Pat Riley sat out Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Mychal Thompson for the final game of the 1989-90 season. L.A. got destroyed by 42 points that night at Portland and the league fined the Lakers $25,000. Even their owner, Jerry Buss, was quoted at the time: “Our fans would have been disappointed if the same thing happened here.”
Utah forward Paul Millsap felt insulted, calling the move “a slap in the face” and citing it as “a little motivation that … got us through.”
Popovich said he was just doing right by the Spurs, in reaction to the frantic post-lockout schedule. “However you want to look at it, 13 games in 18 days, or 16 games in 23 days or ending the season four in five nights, it’s just crazy,” he said that night. “So I’ve got to do something about it.”