Sending Luol Deng and Joakim Noah home on a game day so they can get some rest doesn’t sound like something Tom Thibodeau would ever do.
But Thibodeau did not take exception to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich refusing to play four key players against Miami on Thursday night.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was critical of the move in a statement released Thursday evening: “I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
On Friday, the league announced a $250,000 fine for the Spurs organization and Stern explained his decision in another statement.
“The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case,” the statement read. “The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
Popovich has done this sort of thing before. But Thursday’s game in Miami was nationally broadcast by TNT and was also reportedly a “premium game” for the Heat, which means tickets were more expensive. Playing their sixth road game in nine nights, Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home early.
“I’m not concerned about it. It’s not my issue,” Thibodeau said Friday at the Berto Center. “But you always want what’s best for the league.”
The league’s harsh punishment of the Spurs could obviously influence how all NBA coaches handle their lineup.
“There are two sides to it,” Thibodeau said. “I certainly understand where Pop’s coming from. Pop’s one of the all-time great coaches, so I would never question what he’s doing with his team. I think he understands his team. He understands the makeup of his team. He understands the age of his team. Those things are all critical.
“Then I think the commissioner is always charged with doing what he thinks is best for the league. There’s two sides to it. So hopefully in the end, it will be resolved in a good way.”
Nazr Mohammed played for Popovich and the Spurs from 2004-06 and offered some first-hand perspective to the controversy.
“I’m a player right now and I look at it from the coaches’ side,” Mohammed said. “If you’ve got guys playing six games in nine nights; the sixth game falls on a night that’s a back-to-back. … With Manu missing so many games over the years because of injuries; and injuries being the result of the pounding of the season, I can respect what coach Popovich did. He’s trying to get his guys rest. He’s thinking big picture.”
The irony in all this was the Spurs nearly won the game. They led at Miami until the final 30 seconds.
“As a fan, I’d be (ticked), just because you pay premium to see the Spurs vs. the Heat, then the people you want to see play don’t play,” Mohammed said. “But that’s the chance when you take when you buys tickets. Guys get injured. Things happen.
“It matters what you are. I’m a player, so I’m definitely going on the side of the players right now.”
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