How dare the San Antonio Spurs violate the rules that David Stern has mentally stored in his head.
Don't they know the "totality of the facts"?
The Spurs suffered the consequences for violating unwritten laws by giving four players, including three marquee names, a rest all at the same time.
I find it difficult to justify a fine—of a quarter of a million dollars, no less—for breaking a rule that doesn't exist.
Stern's statement (via NBA.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.
Under these circumstances, I have concluded that Mr. Stern needs control like an alcoholic needs a drink.
First he vetoed a trade for a team he technically owned, and now he's coaching the ones he doesn't.
Understandably upset with Gregg Popovich's decision to send home his stars before a nationally televised Miami game, Stern illustrated his disdain for those who try and poke at his power. He fined the Spurs for messing with him, and made it $250,000 so they don't mess with him again.
But he didn't fine them for breaking the law, because there wasn't a law there to break.
When a player publicly criticizes an official, they get fined, because that's what the rulebook says. If a bench player steps onto the floor during an on-court altercation, that player gets suspended, because that's what the rulebook says.
If it's illegal to rest players early in the year during a nationally televised game, then make it illegal.
Whether it's ethical or not for the commissioner to dictate how a coach coaches his team is a separate issue. If Stern wants to prevent teams from resting their stars in the future, then put it in ink and eliminate any gray areas.
It's a tricky situation. It's the league's interest versus the team's interest.
It's actually an unprecedented dilemma. How can a team be literally forced to play certain players?
If that ends up being the case, then expect the imaginary flu to start contaminating locker rooms on a more consistent basis. Expect bruises to become contusions, and twists become sprains.
The fact of the matter is, Stern can't write in a rule that says star players must play if not listed on the injury report. You just can't have a different set of rules for different level players. If Tim Duncan has to play, then so does Jared Jeffries.
The "totality of the facts" is a poor substitute for actual rules that would have the opportunity to set the expected standards for coaches and teams. The only challenge is figuring out a way to do it.