Friday, November 30, 2012

How Did I Wind Up Supporting The Spurs? Oh Right, David Stern's Ego

I don't know what to make of the fact I've reached the point I'm now supporting the San Antonio Spurs. I used to hate them, in the sports sense, not real hate. I like lots of offense, the Spurs preferred to play defense, and not only that, but knock the teams did score a lot (like the Suns) out of the playoffs. The Spurs were worse in some ways than the Jeff van Gundy Knicks/Pat Riley Heat teams of the late '90s. Those teams didn't score much, but I could understand it. The personnel wasn't necessarily there, but more critically, the coaches simply weren't going to do it. The Spurs would show every so often they could score a lot, they simply chose not to.

Their defense has slipped these last few years, they've cranked up the offense to compensate, so I tend to enjoy watching them more. They aren't a favorite team, I don't root for them generally, but they're enjoyable to watch. Plus, I love Popovich's whole attitude. He's got this grumpy smartass thing going that's hilarious. That game last year where Duncan was listed as "DNP* - Old". The screwing around he did with Barkley last night**.

But now it seems Popovich has gone too far. He sent home four of his starters before last night's game against Miami. Sorry, last night's nationally televised game against Miami, which is probably the real issue. This prompted David Stern to don his tinfoil "King of the World" hat and promise 'substantial sanctions' against the Spurs.

I find this to be ridiculous. Whatever sanctions Stern levies, I hope the Spurs challenge it. Popovich is the Spurs' coach. It is, therefore, his decision who plays in a game or not. It's not David Stern's. Popovich has to do what he feels is best for his team's larger aspirations, which in San Antonio's case is to win a title. if he wants to give some key players extra rest before Saturday's game against Memphis (a pretty damn good team themselves), that's his call. About the only person Popovich should have to answer to is the Spurs' owner, who is his boss. If Peter Holt trusts Popovich's judgment, that should be it.

Yeah, I'm sure there were people who wanted to see Duncan/Parker/Ginobli vs. LeBron/Wade/Bosh, but that's the risk you take. There is no guarantee you'll get to see the players you want to. They might get hurt, or sick, have a funeral or childbirth to attend. They might get in quick foul trouble or get ejected. Or yes, the coach might decide to give them the day off. It happens and as fans, you and I have to roll with it. Tony LaRussa did this all the time, with his "travel day" lineups where he sat five starters. It's frustrating because as a fan, the gut reaction was to want them to win all the time, and this is not the best way to accomplish that. But their best interests will not always coincide with ours.

I don't see what leg Stern has to stand on here. He could try to invoke "the good of the game", but that's a nebulous argument, with limited precedent. Popovich did this last year, resting key guys for the long haul. Adam Silver, who will be taking over from Stern as commish (and it can't come soon enough), said there was nothing wrong with it (albeit near the end of a condensed season). Why is it wrong now? Why isn't it wrong when bad teams sit their best players with bullshit injuries to tank for higher draft picks? Or sit guys near the end of the season to try and draw more favorable playoff matchups? It's absurd for the league to now decide it will dictate roster decisions, because of a single game in late Novermber.

What the hell is the league office doing messing around in a team's roster and playing time decisions anyway?  How much would Popovich have to play his guys to appease Stern? Could he have started them, then pulled them one minute into the game? Does he have to play them for an entire quarter? If Duncan lands awkwardly on a rebound and blows out his knee, does Stern apologize to Duncan, Popvich, the Spurs organization, and their fans for assassinating their season with his meddling? Would it have been enough if Popovich had made up some injury each player had sustained. 'Oh, Tony sprained his ankle and Tim has a groin pull, Manu's having back problems. . .' Is it that Pop couldn't be bothered to bullshit about it?

I understand that sitting your best players simultaneously kind of goes against the idea of trying as hard as you can to win each game, but the Spurs hardly rolled over. The guys who did play gave Miami all they could handle last night, and I imagine Popovich was trying every strategy he could think of to win. I'm sure he wanted to win the game, but not at the expense of bigger goals.

So we'll see what happens. Maybe Stern slept on it and when he woke up this morning, his head had dislodged from his ass. I doubt it, so I hope to hear about the Spurs appealing the sanction roughly five minutes after it's handed down.

{Edit, Saturday morning: Stern fined the Spurs 250 grand, essentially under the 'good of the game' umbrella. It's still a bunch of crap, and I still hope the Spurs appeal. Stern's trying to argue the Spurs didn't give everyone enough notice. They're supposed to let the league know as soon as they know. Well, they played a game the night before, it's possible Popovich was waiting to see if they won that one before making his decision. Then you want to get a good night's sleep and before you know it the game is less than 12 hours away. Yes, it's also possible, even likely, he's known he was going to do this since he saw the schedule, as a way of taking the piss. But as Indio said, that's very hard to prove, Cuchillo. I'm not even clear on why he needs to inform the other team which players he won't be using tonight. Don't even get me started on needing to tell the media ahead of time. Let 'em figure it out on their own. That's their job, ins't it?}

* DNP means "did not play". Typically, it's DNP - CD, meaning "coach's decision".

** I fully support Barkley doing more announcing this year. That bit last night where he said he wasn't sure Duncan was a 1st ballot Hall of Famer because while Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time, Charles and Karl Malone get votes, and they'll both want to keep him out as long as they can. It was hilarious, especially with Reggie Miller's incredulous "Are you out of your mind?"

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