Undeterred by a controversy that resulted in a harsh scolding from commissioner David Stern and a massive fine last season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has elected to rest his key players during a nationally-televised game against the Warriors on Thursday night.
San Antonio announced Thursday that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili would both be given the night off for "rest." Tony Parker will also miss his second straight game after suffering a right shin contusion against the Clippers on Monday. The game against the Warriors marks San Antonio's first appearance on TNT's Thursday night slate this season.
Popovich's decision comes just over a year after the Spurs were fined $250,000 by the NBA after he gave Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Danny Green the night off during a nationally televised game against the Heat.
The circumstances this week are quite similar to last year. Thursday's game represents the final game of a four-game road trip and comes on the second night of a back-to-back for the Spurs. It also comes two days before a key game against the Thunder, who figure to battle the Spurs atop the Western Conference standings all season long.
Last season, the "Rest Gate" game against the Heat was the final clash of a six-game road trip and the second night of a back-to-back. It also came two days prior to a key game against the Grizzlies, who finished the season just two games back of the Spurs in the Southwest Division.
Stern called San Antonio's strategic resting against Miami an "unacceptable decision" and his announcement of the fine -- which came after he promised "substantial sanctions -- made a point of noting that the Spurs proper advance notice of their decision.
“The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case,” Stern said. “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.”
The NBA’s statement also said the Spurs violated league rules in sending their players home.
“The Spurs’ actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA,” the statement read.
There are at least three points of contrast between this year's resting and last year's resting worth mentioning here.
First: San Antonio will visit Golden State again on March 22, so the "only regular-season visit" bit Stern mentioned last year doesn't apply this time around.
Second: San Antonio's press release announcing the decision to rest Duncan and Ginobili went out to all media members at 4 p.m. ET, more than six hours before the scheduled tip-off time. The Spurs can't be accused of failing to give transparent notice this time around.
Third: The 26-year-old Green is not being given the night off, and neither are any of San Antonio's other younger players. Duncan is 37 and Ginobili is 36, and while a coach should be able to rest whomever he wants whenever he wants, Stern took issue with Green's resting in particular last season.
“Pop is a great coach, a Hall of Famer, and a visionary,” Stern said, before Game 1 of the 2013 Finals. “But on this one he wasn’t resting Danny Green. It was a game that was being played. I know it, you know it and he knows it.”
It sure looks like the game is ongoing from both sides, but perhaps the return visit to Oakland, the clear media advisory, and the decision to rest only the true veterans will help keep Popovich out of Stern's doghouse this time around. The Point Forward has argued that the strategic resting of players -- even young players -- should be up to the coach, and only the coach. Last year, TNT's Jeff Van Gundy and then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers came to Popovich's defense, while Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sided with Stern.