NBA commission David Stern is mulling “substantial sanctions” he plans to level against the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich for sending home four starters instead of them traveling to Miami for a game against the world-champion Heat.
When Stern learned of Popovich’s action — the coach sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobil and Danny Green from Orlando to San Antonio on commercial airlines Southwest — he said in a statement: “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Popovich said he decided what is best for his team. Resting the players would have them ready for their Saturday home game against league-leading Memphis.
After the Miami game, which the short-handed Spurs almost pulled out, Popovich was informed of Stern’s statement by TNT and declined to comment.
“I would never react to something I don’t know about or haven’t read or heard,” he said.
“I don’t think Pop was in the wrong; it’s not in the rules to tell you you can’t send your guys home,” LeBron James said after the 105-100 victory. “The commish made his decision and everybody else will deal with it.”
The Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights, their sixth game of a road trip and their 11th road game in November. Popovich, as he’s done in the past in such situations, decided it was best to rest his front-line players. In addition, the Spurs were without key Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard because of injury, leaving them with just nine players in uniform.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBA Coaches Association, said: “As President of the NBA Coaches Association, I am always going to work to protect coaches and decisions coaches make to protect their teams. The NBA will undoubtedly examine all the facts before making any decision on this matter. The fact that San Antonio played such a great game and were in position to win with their depth players is extremely impressive.”
Last season, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the Spurs would not be disciplined after not bringing Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to a road game in Utah. Overall, Popovich held his top three players out of three games for rest last season.
“The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams,” Silver told NBA.com in April with the qualifier that it was a lockout-shortened season. “And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second guess.”
“It’s the best thing for our team,” Popovich said before Thursday’s game. “Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule. We’ve done this before in hopes we’re making a wiser decision and not a macho decision. Perhaps, it’ll give us an opportunity to stay on the floor with Memphis on Saturday night.”
Teams routinely rest top players during the regular season, most often in the final weeks before the playoffs. The NBA has not announced any recent fines for resting star players. There were fines for such actions previously.
“If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I would want them to see everybody, and if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed,” Popovich said. “So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective. My priority is the basketball team and what is best for it.”