NBA Spurs Resting, The San Antonio Spurs have been the NBA’s model franchise the past 15 years. They have won 70% of their regular season games-the best record in major pro sports-and four NBA titles since coach Gregg Popovich and center Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997. They’ve won without breaking the bank on payroll like the Los Angeles Lakers and consistently sold out AT&T Center since it opened in 2002.
But Thursday night, Popovich and the Spurs stuck it to the NBA and commissioner David Stern by having its three stars, Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus starting guard Danny Green sent home to San Antonio to rest, while the remaining Spurs faced off against the Miami Heat in a nationally televised game from Miami. The Spurs were already missing key players Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard because of injury. The game originally seen as a potential NBA Finals preview had the potential to resemble a Harlem Globetrotters versus Washington Generals game. Instead, the nine Spurs that dressed put up a valiant effort, including a five point lead with two minutes left, before the Heat prevailed 105-100.
Stern was not amused. He issued a statement just before the game started saying: “I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.” Expect a hefty fine for the Spurs and Popovich and a possible suspension for the coach.
The Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights and their 11th road game in November and Popovich didn’t want to tax his stars. This is not the first time Popovich has rested his veterans. He rested his star trio three times together last year during the lockout shortened season, including a skipped trip to Utah (the Spurs led that Utah game until the fourth quarter as well before losing). Pop was hardly chastised. He won the Coach of the Year award in 2012, while leading the Spurs to the best record in the NBA.
Popovich has always taken a long view of the NBA season, knowing the real action starts in April with the playoffs. It is hard to argue with the results. His teams have made the playoffs all 15 years that he has been in charge. He carefully manages his players minutes, particularly with Duncan, 36, and Ginobili, 35. Popovich said on Thursday that he made the decision to sit his stars in July when he saw his team’s schedule for this season. Popovich’s actions were in the best interest of the Spurs for their long term success.
The problem this go around is that Thursday night was not a meaningless regular season April road game in Utah. It was a high profile nationally broadcast game on TNT. The NBA’s broadcast partners, TNT and ESPN/ABC, pay $930 million annually on average under the contract that started with the 2008-09 season. The current deal runs through the 2015-16 season and negotiations on new contracts should commence in the next 12 months. The NBA will want a hefty increase to match the dramatic rise in media rights deal in other sports and it can’t risk Thursday’s resting of stars becoming a regular occurrence.