Last night Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs traveled to Miami to take on LeBron James and the defending champion Heat. It was a mouth-watering, star-laden matchup that could reasonably be an NBA Finals preview. Problem was, Duncan didn’t actually travel to the game.
Instead, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to bench Duncan and his other two aging stars, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker as well as Danny Green. Not just bench, but send them home so they could start resting for the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. Popovich was essentially throwing the game in order to get some rest. In the process he was robbing NBA fans of a great matchup and ticketholders to lasts night’s game of the value of their seat. Boy, did that make NBA Commissioner David Stern mad.
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“I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming,” Stern wrote in a statement.
The Commish needs to step back, take a long deep breath and just calm down. There should be no fine, no suspension and no repercussions for Coach Pop and the Spurs.
Yes, I was disappointed to see that those guys would not play. Disappointed enough that I skipped watching a game that I would have checked out otherwise. If Stern just read that line, he would feel empowered to fine Popovich, because he has evidence that the coach’s move cost the league viewers.
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However, it’s not the league’s place to make personnel decisions. They can’t dictate who plays when, even if the game is nationally televised. In much the way you’ll see other coaches play their bench much more during regular season games to get them experience, the coaches can rest players outright if the goal is a better season in the long run.
There’s an argument that Duncan, Parker and Ginobli should have still shown up and played limited minutes. But the wear on players isn’t just the game. It’s the travel, the preparation, the warm-up and cool down that put strain on a player. If the goal is to get these guys optimal rest, Pop should be allowed to give them optimal rest.
The real culprit here isn’t Popovich, but the schedule. "Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing," Popovich said before the game. "In our case, this month we've had 11 away games, after tonight. We've had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we're ending it with four [games] in five nights here. I think it'd be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history."
The Heat game came on the second day of back-to-back games. The Spurs had dispatched Orlando the night before, but with four games in five days, the old team was feeling the effects. This scheduling strain has real consequences.
In the fantastic book, Scorecasting, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim and University of Chicago professor Toby Moskowitz found that NBA teams win only 36 percent of the second games of back-to-backs. The league itself had already put the Spurs in a tough spot by scheduling the games that way. If the NBA is concerned about putting the best product possible in front of their fans, it needs to fix the schedule.
This problem of resting players tends to pop up in the NFL at the end of the year, when the playoff picture is in focus and one more win doesn’t do a team any good. In a few weeks time, we may see the Falcons already have home-field advantage locked up through the playoffs with a game or two to go. You could see Mike Smith resting Matt Ryan to get him ready for a Super Bowl run.
If that happens, we’ll hear the same complaints from fans and the media that we heard last night with Coach Pop. Don’t the fans who bought tickets deserve full value for the money they paid? Don’t TV networks that literally paid hundreds of millions of dollars deserve to air a competitive game?
They have the right to be upset, but ultimately, the goal for teams isn’t to win individual games, the goal is to win titles. A team’s goals may not always align with the league, the fans and the TV partners. But in those cases, the team’s goals trump all others.
Sneaker of the Week
The Golden State Warriors guard Jarrett Jack has been known to brag about his considerable shoe collection. He claims to be one of the league's leading sneakerheads. Well, he came good this week with these fantastic low-top kicks. He's sporting Nike Zoom KD IV “Scoring Title” in Warriors colors.
Interview of the Week
Fresh off of winning a title at Kentucky last year, Terrence Jones is settling in with his new team the Houston Rockets. Check out our Kid Reporter Jack Murphy's chat with the rookie forward.
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