The NBA’s 82-game schedule is grueling, especially when your three core players — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — are 36, 35 and 30, respectively. And, beyond that, perhaps your main competitor in the Western Conference, at least until the Lakers get their shit together, is the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose three main players — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — are 24, 24 and 23, respectively. So, it would make sense to, like in baseball, sit a few of your older players early in the season against a non-conference opponent, right?
Wrong, or so says David Stern. Stern levied a hefty $250,000 fine against the Spurs today, who sat Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Danny Green, 25, who’s averaging 30.9 minutes a night this season but logged 48 in Sunday’s double-OT win in Toronto. The game was the last of a six-game Eastern Conference road trip for the Spurs, who were also playing their sixth game (the first five of their trip were wins) in nine days.
Of course it didn’t help Gregg Popovich’s cause that the game was nationally televised on TNT. (Or, if you’re really into conspiracy theories, it didn’t help that it’s, you know, the Spurs, Adrian Wojnarowski writes at Yahoo! Sports.) But the Spurs, boasting a starting lineup of Patrick Mills, Nando de Collo (who?), Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner lost by only 5 to the defending-champion Heat.
My take: The NBA should not be dictating a team’s lineup. Yeah, I understand Stern’s reasoning — that maybe some San Antonio fans in southern Florida paid good money to see their team play near their home, which only happens once a year unless the teams were to meet in the Finals. (What NBA fans went to Miami to see Duncan & Parker, not Wade & LeBron?) But what’s the difference between resting players in November and April? The games matter just as much … even if the top teams may have divisions or home-court locked up.
The Spurs did not do a “disservice to the league and [its] fans,” as Mr. Stern says. Any NBA coach, particularly one with 4 rings in the past 15 years, should be able to handle his roster however he so sees fit, nationally televised game or not. I’m a huge fan of Stern’s — I mean, the guy started with a league that saw the networks broadcast its playoff games on tape delay and developed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise — but in this case, he’s wrong.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.