x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Popovich's plan earns him a Stern telling off

The Spurs-Heat match-up had been promoted as a potential preview of the NBA finals. Then four of the five Spurs starters failed to show.

NBA commissioner David Stern.
NBA commissioner David Stern.

David Stern, the NBA commissioner, was hot last week and eager to let everyone know it, especially Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio coach, whose Spurs were fined US$250,000 (Dh918,000). Something about saving the integrity of the league.

The crime? At the end of a six-game road trip, after his team had played four times in five days, Popovich decided to give four of his best players the day off. He put Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green on a plane and sent them home rather than have them play the Heat in Miami on Thursday. Duncan, 37, Ginobili, 36 and Parker, 30, are the ageing heart of his team, and Popovich will need them for the play-offs in April, and his interest in pacing them seems obvious.

Admittedly, he was a bit provocative. The Spurs-Heat match-up was on national television and had been promoted as a potential preview of the NBA finals. Then four of the five Spurs starters failed to show, and the Heat won.

Stern went ballistic, deeming it "unacceptable" that the Spurs had not brought the first team. So he opened a can of worms and fined the Spurs, even though they had not broken any rules. If Stern cared that much about the issue, the league should have made a rule on it, ahead of the game featuring one side's second team.

Popovich is one of the league's leading coaches, and he had done the maths. He is not going to kill his team during the 82-game regular season. The post-season is what matters. Except when David Stern disagrees.

sports@thenational.ae