So here we are six days after the fact and we are still hearing about Restgate, the NBA‘s latest faux pas du jour. The facts of the situation are fairly simple, though the potential implications are anything but .On November 29th, The Miami Heat were set to play the San Antonio Spurs in a nationally televised game on TNT. Greg Popovich, as he has occasionally done at various times in the past, opted to rest many of his starters, including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. This would in theory result in an uninteresting nationally televised game, something of a black eye for the league. In response, Commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 and called Pop’s actions bad for the game.
The move is not entirely unprecedented, as the league has leveled fines for similar reasons in the past, but the occasions are few and very far between. In fact, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who will succeed Stern in 2014, spoke out after the Spurs similarly rested stars last year, calling the resting of players the coach’s prerogative. Granted, that game wasn’t nationally televised, such as this one, but it is certainly odd of Stern to reverse the stance Silver took not so long ago.
Stern’s once sterling reputation has been tarnished in recent years by several events, the lockout, the Chris Paul trade veto, the Sonics’ departure from Seattle, and other things, and this certainly doesn’t help change any of that. In the eyes of many hardcore fans and basketball purists, the coach should be free to manage his roster in any way he sees fit. Stern’s decision to step in and fine the Spurs for Pop’s decision to send his stars home is messing with “way things have always been,” and by and large, I agree.
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However, there is something to be said for the fact that a large percentage of the NBA’s revenue comes from the television deals from these nationally televised games, and as Mark Cuban recently said on the subject, you can’t mess with the money train, not in the NBA or any other business. From this frame of mind, Pop’s decision to rest his stars is sort of like not even attempting to put forth a good effort in your board presentation, or burning someone’s filet mignon. And while it was the Spurs fourth game in five nights and the game after the Miami game was against the red hot division rival Memphis Grizzlies, sitting players in November could be viewed as a bit excessive.
And if we are being honest, this is far from the first time that Pop has thumbed his nose at the league. We all remember Tim Duncan famously being listed on the roster as DNP-Old last year. And while Pop’s terse, one sentence responses during sideline interviews have become something of a guilty pleasure for the NBA blogosphere, they do look silly for the league from a PR standpoint. Pop could not care less about being a partner with the league or advancing the game’s popularity, he only cares about doing what is necessary to help his team win. Of course, many coaches feel that way, and many coaches are also less flip in their treatment of the media. Maybe Pop should take a lesson from that, even if it does go against his essential Pop-ness.
I don’t take issue with Pop resting his players, the Spurs have been a supremely successful franchise for the majority of my lifetime greatly in part of Pop’s strategic brilliance. No active coach has been more successful. But the league is certainly within its bounds to protect its lucrative TV contracts.
My issue with the league isn’t that the league took, action, rather the action that they chose to take. With Silver giving tacit approval to similar measures last year, Stern stepping in after the game and leveling a large fine is such a quick turnaround that it smacks of Stern flexing his muscles o the way out of the league. A better option would have been sending a letter telling teams that this type of behavior would not be accepted this early in the season. Message sent, crisis dealt with, and we don’t have to deal with a renewed rash of “David Stern is a fascist” sentiments from all over the internet.
The other thing that has been mentioned is that with Team USA Basketball possible looking for a new coach with Mike Krzyzewski likely leaving the bench, the Olympic team will possible be looking for a new coach. The front runners for this job include Doc Rivers, Tom Izzo, and, you guessed it, Gregg Popovich. While Team USA basketball decisions do rest with Jerry Colangelo at the end of everything, the NBA and Stern do get to put their two cents in. While I can’t possibly see something like this actually affecting Gregg’s chances at landing the job, which many insiders say he does want, he does flip Stern the bird with unfortunately bad timing here. Gregg Popovich is an extremely patriotic armed forces veteran who just happens to be one of the most spectacularly successful basketball coaches and strategists of our time. He is one of the few coaches for which old “players would run through a brick wall for him” metaphor might actually be true. If that isn’t the resume of a man that should coach the United States Men’s Basketball Team, then I don’t have any idea what is.
There is no way that such a silly problem should ever cost anyone so much as $250,000 dollars, much less a chance at such a prestigious position, but this is the NBA: Where Increasingly Ridiculous Crap Happens. I pray that the powers that be back off of this kind of iron-fisted behavior, and stop letting what has been an interesting new season be sullied by what should have been a small foot note in this year’s narrative.