Spurs coach Gregg Popovich makes a Stern coaching decision

Thursday night San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made a great basketball coaching decision, made the right choice for his team, sending three of three members of his starting five Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with 25-year-old shooting guard Danny Green back to San Antonio and not to the Spurs scheduled game against the defending NBA champions Miami Heat, in Miami. The Spurs were playing their fourth road game in five nights. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are each well past their 30th birthdays.

Popovich claimed he made the decision to rest his aging superstars in July when the NBA schedule was announced. The Spurs – Heat game was game one of TNT’s nationally televised Thursday night NBA doubleheader.

“It has nothing to do with the Miami Heat or TV, or anything,” Popovich said. “You deal with the schedule as best you can and do the wisest thing for your particular team.

“If our best players were 23 years old or 25 years old, we might have done something different,” Popovich said. “It’s pretty easy to understand. I don’t think it’s so amazing.”

With less than a minute to go in the game the Spurs were winning 98-97, losing the game 105-100.

"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."

NBA commissioner David Stern sent out a release before the game began after Stern and the NBA heard about Popovich’s decision to send players back to San Antonio, the Spurs dressed nine players for the game.

“I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Stern’s reaction didn’t come as a surprise. It is well within Greg Popovich’s right to decide how he should best use his roster for any particular game. However, to send players back to San Antonio is a blatant insult to the integrity of the National Basketball Association. David Stern is responsible for protecting the NBA’s brand.

The average price for a Miami Heat ticket is $58, parking cost $25. The Fan Cost Index based on four tickets, souvenirs and concessions (those experiences families enjoy once a year) is $352.20 for a Heat game. The Spurs visited Miami’s American Airlines Thursday night was their only appearance in South Florida one of the more interesting games for NBA fans. Fans that purchased tickets for the game had every right to expect to see Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in the Spurs lineup.

"I've gotten letters from those people before when I've done it and I understand their perspective totally," Popovich said. "If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I'd want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren't there, I'd be disappointed. So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is — the basketball team and what's best for it."

Playing a late season game in Portland during the truncated 2011-12 NBA season (the NBA crammed 66 games into a schedule that began on Christmas Day), the entire Spurs roster was in Portland for the Spurs regular season game last April. Popovich decided to rest many of his star players, the Trailblazers beat the Spurs by 40 points. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili where in Portland for the game, they didn’t play very much in that game. A difference yes, if the difference is Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were at the game.

After the Portland game NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Stern offered this on Popovich’s decision to rest his star players: "The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams. And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second-guess."

It’s easy to suggest the difference between Thursday night’s game in Miami and last season’s debacle in Portland is subtle at best, at the end of the day what Popovich did Thursday night was the next step in deciding to not play his players in a road game, this time he decided to send his players back to San Antonio to get additional rest, as opposed to having them sit on the bench.

"I don't think Pop was in the wrong," NBA player of the year LeBron James told the media after the Heat barely survived. "Pop runs his team how he wants to run his team. He's a great coach. There's nothing you can really say about him. He's done it before, and he has a great feel for his team. And you can't question him as a leader or question him as a coach.

"It's not in the rules to tell you that you can't send your guys here or send them home or whatever the case may be," James said. "But the commish makes his decisions, and everybody else will deal with it."

"He's paying attention to his guys' body and what they need and what they don't need," former Boston Celtic and now a member of the Heat Ray Allen, 37 added. "Doc was similar when we had opportunities to rest our guys, for sure. The pounding, over time, it's a long season. The good teams in this league want to play until June. So that's where you're measuring a game in November, December and January, and you're like, 'Well, I want these guys to be fresh going into the end of the year.'"

David Stern is expected to announce his decision on whatever “sanctions” he intends to impose on Popovich and the Spurs before San Antonio’s home game Saturday evening against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Friday evening the NBA made the following announcement: the San Antonio Spurs organization has been fined $250,000 for its decision to send four players home prior to the Spurs' Nov. 29 game in Miami. The Spurs' actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.

NBA Commissioner David Stern stated: “The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”

The NBA doesn’t have a rule preventing what Popovich did Thursday night from taking place. No rules were broken, how can Stern justify suspending Popovich? The Heat won the game by five points, the Spurs were winning with less than a minute to go in the game, and the game was both entertaining and competitive. Stern announced before the game a price would be paid for the coaching decision Popovich had made – imagine if the Spurs had won the game, what action could David Stern have taken then?

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom