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A Dangerous Decision by David Stern
Posted By Tommy Beer On November 30, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
David Stern’s response was swift and aggressive in tone. Once word leaked that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had decided to rest four of his core players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green) in Thursday night’s matchup against the Miami HEAT, Stern pledged to take action.
”I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said. ”This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Before we dive into this “controversy,” here are a few facts worth noting:
* Since the start of the 1997-1998 season, Popovich’s first full campaign, the Spurs have the best regular season winning percentage of any team in any of the four major North American professional sport leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL).
* Over these past 15 years, the Spurs have the best winning percentage over any 15-year span in NBA history at .702 (830-352)
* The Spurs won 50 games last season (despite the lockout-shortened schedule) , extending their streak of winning at least 50 games for the 13th consecutive season (1999-00 – present) – all under Popovich’s tenure – surpassing the L.A. Lakers (1979-80 to 1990-91) for the longest streak in NBA history.
* For his career, Pop has won a total of 14 Coach of the Month awards, an NBA best.
* With four NBA Championships, Popovich ranks fifth for most titles by a head coach in NBA history.
These are but a few highlights on Popovich’s resume. He is one of the greatest coaches to ever stand on an NBA sideline. I assume we can all agree that the man has a pretty solid understanding of what it takes to win in the NBA, no?
Yet, somehow, millions of NBA fans across the land, countless folks on Twitter, and media pundits in print and online, feel comfortable telling Popovich how to do his job.
More to the heart of the matter: Does Stern have a more complete understanding than Popovich of what’s best for San Antonio as a franchise?
Via these forthcoming “substantial sanctions,” Stern is about to set an incredibly dangerous precedent, and may well lead the NBA down an incredibly slippery slope.
Stern, and others, claim that Popovich is guilty of “embarrassing” the NBA. However, this is NOT the first time Popovich has partaken in the practice of resting his best players. Last season, Tim Duncan got a night off, and received a “DNP-Old” next to his name in the box score. The internets laughed and laughed.
The only difference last night was the NBA’s reaction to Popovich’s decision. The main beef seems to stem from the fact that Spurs were playing on national television against the mega-popular Miami HEAT.
Last April, after Pop rested his top guns (and even himself, by not making a road trip), NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver went on the record, stating the NBA did NOT have an issue with this concept.
“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,” said Silver.
Apparently, this time the actions were unacceptable because Pop chose to sit his stars during a nationally televised game on TNT.
Key Spurs sitting angered many people; nobody is disputing that. Most fans who paid for a ticket to the arena, as well as the millions of others that sat down on their couch in front of their TV’s would obviously prefer to watch the Spurs match-up against the HEAT with a full compliment of players. We all agree on that point. The question is simply this: Why should Gregg Popovich care about anything other than what he believes puts his team in the best position to win an NBA championship?
The goal of any great franchise is to win a title. Period. It’s not to help sell tickets, or drive up ratings for TV networks. If a coach decides that resting his veterans for a regular season game in November gives them even a slightly better chance of winning a playoff game in June, then that coach should do what he believes is right; regardless of if it affects other people’s viewing experience.
Here are Popovich’s comments prior to tip-off last night (courtesy of the AP): ”Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing. 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.”
”Perhaps it’ll give us an opportunity to stay on the court with Memphis on Saturday night,” Popovich said. ”Historically, when you’re on a long road trip, that first game when you come home is really tough. And Memphis is one of the best teams in the league. They’re of much more concern to us than playing four games in five nights. It’s pretty logical.”
Towards the end of every season, the NBA universe seem to inevitably stumble into the debate over which teams are “tanking” and what their punishments should be. I have to admit, I always find it humorous, this idea that every team should always go all out in an effort to win every regular season game, as if that’s all that matters. The argument that a coach shouldn’t play his rookies down the stretch of a lost season is ludicrous. This short-sighted viewpoint simply isn’t practical. Again, the objective of every organization is to a win a championship. All moves, signings, trades and decisions should be made with that end-goal in mind. For instance, on July 11, 1996, the Lakers traded their starting center, Vlade Divac, to the Charlotte Hornets for a skinny kid out of high school named Kobe Bryant. Bryant was obviously not ready to contribute on the NBA level as an 18 year-old, while Divac had a fine season for the Hornets in 1997. The short-term result was the Lakers taking a slight step back in the trade’s immediate aftermath. But, looking back at the big picture, I don’t think any Lakers fans have a problem with Jerry West’s decision.
Sometimes teams have to make small short-term sacrifices, in order to win big down the road. And who would have a better idea of what’s best for San Antonio long-term: Gregg Popovich or David Stern?
Furthermore, what if Stern had forced Pop to play his stars last night, and Duncan and Parker bumped knees in the 1st quarter? What happens if Manu Ginobili sprained an ankle and misses two weeks? Would Stern then feel “embarrassed?” Popovich would be the one forced to deal with the consequences of bending to public sentiments.
Some argued that Pop’s decision could impact the Celtics, Knicks or Nets, as they chase Miami for the best record in the East. Again, why is that Pop’s problem? Why should that be his concern?
And where do we draw the line? Should Stern step in if he feels a certain coach is not putting his team in the best position to succeed on a nightly basis?
So the NBA is now making decisions based solely on what pleases or displeases fans…
Plenty of fans in Detroit adamantly believe that Andre Drummond should be playing more than 16 minutes a night. Should Stern sanction Lawrence Frank?
A head coach is hired by a general manager and receives his paycheck from the team’s owner. Those are the individuals that should have the final say as to whether or not the actions of said coach are acceptable.
Clearly Popovich weighed the pros and the cons of the decision and determined the best course of action for his team.
Look at the man’s resume; hasn’t Popovich earned the benefit of the doubt?
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