Gregg Popovich decides to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home prior to tonight's game against the Heat. Is it just about rest or is he conspiring against the man? Get out your tinfoil hats, we're going in.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you it doesn't bother me, because it does.
I would love to see a full-steam Spurs take on the Heat freight train on national television, but we're not going to get to see it because of a move it seems only Gregg Popovich can get away with. And it's understandable, to some parties at least. The Miami freakazoid-athlete-machine will be playing its third game in nine days while San Antonio will be on its sixth in that time, and we all know the value Pop places on rest. Yes, it's just November. If you ask him, he'd say it's about the cumulative wear and tear.
It seems far-fetched to argue that sitting Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green tonight - on top of the already injured Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson - will help the Spurs once playoffs roll around. Fatigue now surely doesn't mean fatigue come April, May and June. But I don't think you need to be a doctor to know that fatigue increases the risk of injury. (Does anyone need attribution on that? Because I know a few physicians.) It's easy to get up on your high horse and yell about how unfair it is to TNT and its ratings (I promise Ted Turner will sleep wonderfully tonight, regardless of the Nielsen overnight numbers) or complain about the fans not getting what they pay for (though the buyer should have already been wary), and it's even worse to complain as a member of the media that Pop is ruining your evening. Do what you're paid to do.
But the media will complain, and this issue is hardly a new one. Writers and talking heads will whine about the disrespect and the irreverence, the stubbornness and the petulance. It's just as expected as the perennial Pop decision to sit the Big 3 on a random second night of a back-to-back. But who's really the one that's being petulant? Is it the guy who, as the leader of an organization, has every right to do what he feels is best for his employees to provide better opportunity for success moving forward? To look out for his most seasoned and valued entities as a sign of precaution and even respect? Or is it the guy who doesn't get to watch the game he wanted to see tonight. Hey, I wanted to watch it, too. And I still will. Even though it just might end up like a well-reviewed film that ends up being a stinker.
Yes, this is a sport and it's about entertainment, but the Spurs aren't some publicly funded company in which every stockholder has a say. You choose to be entertained. You choose to pay for their services. You buy their tickets because you want to, not because they're forced upon you. While there's certainly significant appreciation for what the fans mean to this organization, the Spurs and Gregg Popovich don't owe anyone a candy bar. Still, you can have your opinion. Just know it doesn't matter if you're the one who doesn't get it.
The other bit of conspiracy theorist garbage that continues to be tossed around the proverbial opinion desk is that Pop is doing this as a giant middle finger to David Stern and the NBA for giving San Antonio a brutal schedule which already has them on their second road trip of six days or more, this one being nine days long. So, as I understand it, Gregg Popovich is willing to sabotage his team's success to get back at Stern, who apparently has PURPOSEFULLY given San Antonio a schedule he felt would be difficult to handle, thus setting the Spurs up for failure on a national stage against the defending champions. Right. And Craig Sager's suit will be simple muted earth tones tonight.
And it's not about whether Popovich cares about you, or whether he respects what's 'fair.' The fact is, this has always been about one thing: Pop looking out for his team's welfare. It's been a long road trip and San Antonio has to play Memphis (one of the league's best teams) on Saturday. Pop would have made this decision regardless of which opponent was on the schedule, or which television company was carrying the game. That's not what this is about and it never has been. If it was evident that Popovich was out for revenge, or if it was obvious that he was only trying to make a point, then yes, calling Popovich petulant might be fair.
Very simply, Popovich has stated many times that these decisions are based on being cautious about the health of his most valuable resources. It's his company, his organization, and he can do what he wants. It's one thing if Peter Holt calls him out for it (or if David Stern threatens 'substantial sanctions,' which he has), but otherwise it matters little. All Pop wants is an extra day of rest for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (oh, and Danny Green too, that's weird). Still, I doubt Popovich minds raising his middle finger on the way out the door.