Spurs Fined for Having Stars

By resting aging stars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili before Thursday’s game against Miami, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich (left) put player-safety and playoff-readiness ahead of TV ratings. By fining the Spurs a quarter-million, NBA commissioner David Stern (right) did the opposite. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Forgot to post my News-Cap work last week, so enjoy this column instead!). NBA commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 on Friday. The Spurs’ crime? Sending stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green — combined age: 126 — home early from a road trip instead of playing them on Thursday against the Miami Heat.

Apparently, good players can only rest in games that don’t matter.

Duncan, Ginobili and Parker comprise the Spurs’ top three scorers, while Green ranks sixth. Neither Duncan nor Green had missed a start before Miami, and coach Gregg Popovich decided that, given the Heat’s undefeated record at home and its high-speed, high-flying style of offense, this would be a good opportunity to rest his aging players.

Unfortunately for the Spurs, Thursday’s game aired on TNT, meaning it drew a national audience expecting to see the NBA’s best. Instead, fans had to watch the Heat beat a bunch of scrubs.

Boo hoo.

No rules exist that prohibit teams from resting as many starters as they want for as many games as necessary. As such, Stern had to manufacture some bullshit philosophical arguments to justify punishing the Spurs.

Stern claimed Popovich’s decision acted “contrary to the best interests of the NBA” and “did a disservice to the league and our fans.”

Translation: “The Spurs cost me money.”

This notion of “our fans” that Stern mentioned — exactly which fans is he talking about? Because in all likelihood, most Spurs fans would support Popovich’s move because they know resting Duncan and Ginobli more now might make them fresher for the playoffs.

The Spurs ran out of legs against the faster, younger Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s Western Conference Finals, and neither the Spurs nor their fans want that to happen again. Instead, the team might sacrifice a few regular-season wins to conserve precious minutes heading into April.

Ask a businessman where a company’s responsibilities lie, and he or she will likely say either the employees, the stockholders or the customers. It’s far less likely that person will say “the industry.”

The Spurs showed allegiance to their employees by resting older, regularly used players that needed it. And by trading an almost-unwinnable game against the Heat for more (and possibly more important) wins down the road, the Spurs also showed allegiance to their fans (the stockholders/customers in this business model), who really just want to see their team raise up another Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The Spurs may not have represented the NBA by preventing Duncan from tangling with Lebron James, but that’s not their job — it’s Stern’s, and he ought to be able to make a profit on the product he has instead of forcing teams into the model he’d like.

Because of this fine, coaches will now second-guess any decision to rest players, worried that doing so will wind up costing their teams money. That could easily lead to coaches over-using players who legitimately need rest, potentially leading to a rash of injuries that could hurt the NBA’s profitability far more than Popovich’s lone decision ever could.

The fine also sets a ridiculous double-standard in the NBA. If the 4-14 Cleveland Cavaliers had rested Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao before their Nov. 9 game against the 7-11 Phoenix Suns, would Stern have made such a stink? No, of course not.

Stern’s fine effectively says that only good teams have a duty to represent the NBA. The crappy ones can do whatever they want, because they’re not the ones making any money anyway.

Stern seems to be the best commissioner among the Big 4 leagues. Because even though this decision showed Stern to be a hypocritical capitalist, at least he isn’t:

• An impotent geezer who sold his soul to drug-dealers because home runs put fans in the stands (Bud Selig);

• A megalomaniacal quasi-sociopath who only cares about player safety when it doesn’t otherwise impinge on his multi-billion-dollar enterprise (Roger Goodell); or

• Gary Bettman (Gary Bettman)

But by making T.V. ratings and advertising revenue more important than both player-health and winning — as this fine did — Stern has made it much tougher for teams to justify keeping older players, who tend need more rest than their younger counterparts. Ultimately, this might mean fewer contracts for older NBA players, which could in turn result in more NBA players retiring at younger ages.

Given Stern’s glee at how youthful the NBA looked when James and Kevin Durant faced each other in the 2012 NBA Finals, perhaps that’s secretly just what Stern wants.

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