Though, the fine levied against the Spurs—$250,000 for Gregg Popovich's decision to send home Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green prior to the end of a six-game, nine-day road trip—would suggest otherwise about commissioner David Stern's priorities. As he relayed in a statement on Nov. 30 (via Ben Golliver of SI.com):
The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. 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 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.
You hear that, NBA coaches? The next time you decide to rest your "top players" during an "early-season...visit to Miami," you'd better be sure to clear it with the league office ahead of time.
Or something to that effect. Because, you know, the 105-100 thriller that resulted from Pop's "violation of a league policy...against resting players" was a "disservice to the league and our fans" and was done "in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA."
Right. As if the league's biggest problem is the four-time champion coach of a model franchise trying to save his aging stars to fight a more meaningful battle, albeit in a fashion that reeks of bird-flipping in the general direction of the Olympic Tower.
And as if Spurs owner Peter Holt, who will bear the brunt of the resulting financial burden, has been an enemy of Stern's. If anything, Holt has been one of the commissioner's staunchest and most helpful allies. Holt, the current chairman of the NBA's Board of Governors, was a key figure in ending last year's lockout.
Surely, Holt is none too happy to see this bill, given all he's done for Stern.
Melodrama aside, doesn't Stern have more troublesome issues with which to concern himself, ones that actually bring into question the integrity of the game? If The Angel of Stern (as Tony Kornheiser calls him) is going to bring the hammer down on the Spurs for sitting their stars early in the season in the interest of a longer-term goal, then what will he do once bad teams start tanking for ping pong balls in the NBA draft lottery?
Isn't that an affront to the fans who pay good money for admission into the league's arenas on any given night? And what's Stern to do when teams see what happened to the Spurs and—rather than refraining from sitting their stars when they see fit—opt instead to fabricate injuries as excuses?
Is Stern going to act so swiftly to punish all those terrible teams that wind up on TNT, ESPN and ABC in spite of their ongoing futility? What ever shall the league do when the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns, two middling teams, take the court on Thursday, Dec. 6 in front of a national audience?
Is intentionally tanking or resting players any worse for the game than poor officiating? You don't often hear about Stern fining his referees for bad calls, but he's quick to pull the financial trigger whenever anyone else brings it up.
The league finally instituted penalties for "flopping," but only one player—Brooklyn Nets forward Reggie Evans—has thus far taken a hit to his pocketbook. Yet, it's clear when watching the NBA that the players are still doing their darndest at times to fake out the officials. Shouldn't the league be more vigilant about implementing its new anti-flopping regime?
And what about the league's routinely draconian scheduling practices against which Pop's move may have been a symbolic shot? The prevalence of back-to-backs, four games in five nights and lengthy road trips has certainly degraded the product, or at least made it more difficult for teams to put forth an attractive one night in and night out. Forcing guys to play on short rest while traveling from city to city doesn't improve the quality of play, nor does it leave them less susceptible to injuries.
And, you know, to missing games.
To be sure, it won't likely be Stern's responsibility to deal with this issue or any others that may or may not be scourges on the NBA. He's set to retire in February 2014, well before either the league or the players can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017. At that point, it'll be up to current deputy commissioner Adam Silver to handle Stern's scraps.
Until then, it'd behoove Stern to devote whatever time, energy and clout he has left to causes that might actually benefit the NBA without opening up another worm-filled can of vagaries.
If not for the league he's overseen for nearly 30 years, then for his own legacy, to which he's done such a disservice in recent years.