Despite what commissioner David Stern may believe, resting your players is completely legal. However, when San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich decided to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back to Texas before the team faced the Miami Heat Thursday night everyone around the NBA took notice. The game was still very competitive and ended with a score of 105-100 in favor of the Heat. However, Stern still fined the Spurs $250,000 for doing a "disservice to the league and our fans." 39 year old Jason Kidd understands why Popavich made his decision and stands by his choice.
Before we get into if Gregg Popovich actually did anything wrong, what he did simply felt wrong. It felt dirty, unclean. That being said, there is no rule that coaches can't decide to sit players. David Stern may have fined San Antonio for the decision but quite frankly the players association will jump all over the league about this. It's quite obvious that this is much more a case of Stern being embarrassed and upset that his nationally televised game was compromised. He even warned the Spurs before the game that “substantial sanctions” would be put into action if Popovich followed through with sending the players home. He did and so Stern came down with the fine.
Todays official statement from David Stern was short and to the point. He warned the Spurs and they dared to not listen so he followed through with his promise to discipline them. It will be interesting to see what, if any, action the players association and/or the owners take in response to this fine. There is no rule that says a coach can't sit who he wants or that he has to notify their opponent, the league or the network the game will be aired on a certain amount of time before the game starts. In fact this will likely just lead to teams claiming players have injuries they don't have so they have an excuse for giving them the night off. Stern is walking a fine line here.
But Jason Kidd, 39, one of the oldest players in the league, said it "was great" what Popovich did with his lineup.
"He's the coach of that team," Kidd said. "He has every right to do what he feels right for the team, if it's an older team. I did the same thing in Dallas (in 2011). We took a week off before the playoffs, before we made that run. And it helped us win a championship. I think Pop has every right."
This fine is clearly meant to cause the Spurs' ownership group, led by Peter Holt, to prevent Popovich from sending his players home the next time he wants to rest his veterans. However, when does it become a problem? Is it only a problem to rest your best players? Who determines who they are? What about your second tier players? How many of your best players can you sit at once? Is there a specific ratio of playing to resting players that a team must adhere to?
Can teams rest players later in the season as we get closer to the playoffs? Is this simply a matter of notification? What if Popovich had announced his decision a few days in advance, would the Spurs have avoided being fined? Can the league dictate lineups and take personnel decisions out of the hands of the coaching staffs? If and when teams start faking minor injuries to rest players will they risk being fined and can the league actually violate the players HIPAA right in order to prove the injuries being real or not?
This fine comes off as David Stern keeping up his reputation as a overzealous dictator who will have his way or else! He used this opportunity to send a message to NBA coaches and teams. Don't mess with his product! His marquee games, and more importantly the NBA's nationally televised games, are to be handled with white gloves by NBA franchises. All-Stars and franchise faces are expected to perform and give networks avenues to advertise promote the contest.
No one can deny that Popovich's decision wasn't disappointing. The outcome of that game could effect many teams, including the Knicks. That being said, Kidd is right. Popovich has every right to send whatever players home he wants and give any of his players the night off if and when he pleases. Stern is over stepping his bounds by fining the Spurs. He should truly be ashamed.
Should fans be upset that the Spurs best players didn't play? Yes, everyone outside of Miami should be up in arms about it. However, that doesn't mean any rules were broken or that fines are in order for Popovich's actions. This didn't hurt the NBA. This was an early season matchup. This fine is about money. If anything, this game showed both how incredible of a coach Popovich is by only losing by five with his best players not on the court and that the Heat took the Spurs lightly without Duncan and company suiting up for the night.
This is a large moment. When Stern retires his era will be defined by work stoppages, anti-hip-hop and baggy clothes dictations and now by the commissioner being able to make lineup decisions for the league's franchises. Quite a legacy. There's a reason why Stern has turned Adam Silver into the most popular man in the world with NBA fans. Hopefully that reputation will continue once he takes Stern's job.