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Kragthorpe: Spurs’ Popovich has right to make own choices

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to reporters before an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in Miami. ( AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

By kurt kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published Nov 30 2012 10:41AM
Updated Dec 1, 2012 05:42PM

Personally, I’m not a fan of Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs’ coach.

He’s brusque, condescending and dismissive of the media, traits that naturally tend to sour my view of him. But I’m on his side in the latest controversy, involving his choice to send home four key players for the sake of rest, rather than have them play in Thursday’s showcase game at Miami.

I’m not saying he’s right, I’m just defending his right to do it.

And that means NBA commissioner David Stern is wrong, in declaring that the Spurs will receive "substantial sanctions" from the league.

I understand Stern’s motivation, wanting to protect the value of regular-season games for ticket-buyers and television viewers. But if the league insists on playing 82 games from late October to mid-April, there are going to be many nights when the product is inadequate.

Popovich is merely pointing out that truth in his own, extreme way. His prerogative as coach is to manage his team as he sees fit, whether that appeases fans, NBA administrators or anybody else.

The trouble with Stern’s involvement in this issue is when, where and why the line is drawn. Why was is not a problem last April, when Popovich kept home Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili from a game in Salt Lake City? All he did Thursday was add Danny Green to that list.

The further parallel is that while Jazz forward Paul Millsap described Popovich’s action as "a slap in the face" and said it motivated him, that hardly explains why the Jazz struggled to produce a 91-84 win. In Miami, the Spurs actually led by seven points in the last five minutes before the Heat rallied for a 105-100 victory. The irony is that Popovich’s ploy created a very intriguing game, probably one of the better TNT telecasts of the season.

Yet even if the Spurs had been blown out, as happened at Portland last season when Popovich employed this strategy, I’d still say he should be allowed to do it.

What if Popovich had played those four guys in only the first quarter or the first half? Would that be better or worse? In other words, how can Stern legislate playing time?

Obviously, not having the players in the building is more blatant than keeping them on the bench, but the reality is it works out about the same way.

If this season goes as planned, the Spurs will play more than 100 games in the regular season and the playoffs. Taking a night off in November during a road-heavy schedule is not much different than a NFL coach’s resting his starters in December when his team’s playoff spot is determined. That approach shortchanges the fans and affects other teams as well, but the NFL never sanctions anyone.

Neither should Stern, regarding the Spurs. With an 82-game schedule, the integrity of the NBA regular season became laughable, long before Popovich’s time.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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