MIAMI — The San Antonio Spurs will be punished by the NBA for their decision to send four top players home and not make them available to play in Miami against the Heat on Thursday night.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said the decision to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green — the core of the Spurs — was in the team’s best interest. The league wasn’t happy about it, and Commissioner David Stern promised that San Antonio would be penalized.
“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Stern’s statement was released roughly the same time as tip-off in Miami for a nationally televised game.
Before the game, Popovich said he decided to sit his core when he saw how challenging this particular part of the schedule was for his team. Thursday’s matchup ended a six-games-in-nine-nights swing for the Spurs, who won their first five on the trip.
“Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing,” Popovich said before the game. “In our case, this month we’ve had 11 away games, after tonight. We’ve had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we’re ending it with four (games) in five nights here. I think it’d be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history.”
It’s not unlike other moves Popovich has made before; in fact, not only did he give Duncan, Parker and Ginobili time off together toward the end of last season, which was condensed by a lockout, he actually flew home to San Antonio with them and took a two-game, pre-playoff sabbatical.
This time, when Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green flew home — reportedly on a Southwest Airlines flight on Thursday from Orlando, where the team played one night earlier — Popovich stayed with the Spurs for the trip to Miami.
Duncan is in his 16th NBA season, Parker his 12th and Ginobili his 11th. Green is a kid compared to those guys — 25 years old and a veteran of only 110 NBA games — but Popovich said he chose to rest him as well because Green has played a lot.
Green leads the Spurs with 496 minutes played this season, which was 44th-most in the NBA entering Thursday’s games. The Spurs aren’t expected to practice Friday, then they face Memphis on Saturday in San Antonio.
“Perhaps it’ll give us an opportunity to stay on the court with Memphis on Saturday night,” Popovich said. “Historically, when you’re on a long road trip, that first game when you come home is really tough. And Memphis is one of the best teams in the league. They’re of much more concern to us than playing four games in five nights. It’s pretty logical.”
Given Stern’s statement, it’s also logical to think that the Spurs could know their penalty by Saturday as well.
Popovich also said facing the Heat had nothing to do with his decision.
“I’ve gotten letters from those people before when I’ve done it and I understand their perspective totally,” Popovich said. “If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I’d want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed.
So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is — the basketball team and what’s best for it.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Popovich’s move didn’t affect Miami’s preparation.
“Each organization has a big-picture view of what they are trying to get accomplished and I think the league respects that,” Spoelstra said.
Popovich had Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Nando De Colo and Patty Mills in his starting lineup. Besides the four players sent home, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard are injured, meaning the Spurs had only four substitutes available.
“Obviously,” Bonner said, “we’re a little short-handed.”
The Heat had one lineup move as well. With Shane Battier out with a sprained right knee, Spoelstra moved Rashard Lewis into Miami’s starting lineup alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers.