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Popovich justified in benching Tim Duncan, other stars

NBA Columnist

Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

Last Thursday the Miami Heat faced the San Antonio Spurs on TNT. Every NBA fan was looking forward to seeing potentially seven future hall of famers all on the court: LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Allen, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. The two teams were the best in their respective conferences. All signs pointed to a fantastic game.

It did turn out to be a fantastic game with a nail-biting Miami Heat victory. But it was not at all in the way we planned it to be. Gregg Popovich, the prestigious coach of the Spurs, decided not only to rest his star players, but also to send them all home. None of the Spurs best players played in the game. This outraged David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, and he fined the Spurs organization 250,000 dollars. This caused major controversy around the league concerning whether the Spurs should have been punished or not. Was it fair? Who was right - Popovich or Stern?
Well lets go straight to the facts. Gregg Popovich is commonly referred to as the best coach in the NBA. Popovich has a career winning percentage of .680 and has won four World Championships with the Spurs. He was selected as coach of the year in two of those years. So Gregg knows what he is doing and he knows exactly what it takes to win.

Popovich did nothing out of the ordinary when he held back the reigns on his starters in last week’s spotlight game. Popovich does what he wants and always gets in the best interest of the Spurs organization. Popovich has rested his stars many times. He knows that records and individual games do not win championships, but keeping your veteran star players healthy for the playoffs does.

Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are 34 and 35 years old. The Spurs played four games in five days on the road leading up to the Heat game. That is a tough road trip for young players, never mind Duncan, a 15-year veteran.

Hey David Stern, if one of those three star players, Duncan, Parker, or Ginobili gets injured, the Spurs season is over. They need all three of them for a deep playoff push.

Gregg Popoivch’s job is not to please fans of other teams or help TNT make money. His job is to win basketball games. He made a decision that for their sixth road game in nine days, he was going to rest his starters. Also, Popovich may have seen that his players were tired and that it may have not been in their best interest to play.

However all this being said, he may have had another motive. The Spurs bench would have beat the Miami Heat had it not been for a Ray Allen three with less than a minute left in the game that sealed the deal for Miami. Even though people say the Spurs lost, Popovich does not perceive it as a loss. He got his “No name” bench players to step up and play with the best players in the world. They got to put up their shots and did not have to defer to Duncan, Parker, or the other stars. They were able to build up their confidence so that down the road when Pop brings them into a big game they will be ready to shoot at will and can handle the pressure.

Popovich’s other wise motive may have been to rest and prepare for the Grizzlies, who were their next opponent. Pop wanted his stars to be fully rested, which they were, when they played the No.2 team in the Western Conference right after the Heat loss. Their win against the Grizzlies was a big confidence boost. They knew they could beat the best in the west with their starters and almost beat the best team in the east with their bench.

Overall Gregg Popovich was in the right. David Stern overreacted. Stern wanted a power struggle, but frankly you cannot do that with Gregg Popovich because he just does not care. I would not be surprised – correction - I actually would expect Popovich to rest his starters again this season, regardless of the fine. You have to remember that even though these are pro athletes, they are also human beings. When your stars are in their mid thirties they need time to rest.

If Stern’s only argument was that it is not fair to the fans, lets just say that Popovich picked the perfect game to rest his starters. I can not count the number of times I have watched Miami games and it takes till halftime for the fans to all settle in.

David Stern needed to do what his job demanded him to do. He needed to make sure that the revenue and popularity of the league is maximized. Popovich did what his job demanded. Which was to do whatever you have to to be ready to win playoff games in April. They both were right in a way, but Stern’s right went to a wrong the minute he fined the Spurs. 

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