Two things can look the same yet be completely different.
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each sat out of the Miami Heat’s Sunday matchup against the San Antonio Spurs, it was an obvious parallel to the Spurs’ punished decision to rest their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green before a marquee prime-time matchup in late November.
But while it’s an amusing circumstance—the same offense coming in the same matchup but from the opposing side—it actually only offers further proof that the league's original decision to discipline the Spurs was absurd and without forethought.
When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent his team leaders home rather than playing them on the tail end of a rough six-game road trip on Nov. 29, NBA commissioner David Stern was so ticked he fined the organization $250,000 for its "disservice" to the league and fans.
But there was never further explanation regarding how similar decisions would be handled in the future. So Sunday's situation was inevitable.
When the Heat sat James (hamstring), Wade (ankle) and Chalmers (ankle) Sunday night, coach Erik Spoelstra dismissed the notion that such action was a counter to Popovich.
"I could see how you guys can draw that conclusion, but no," Spoelstra said, according to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com.
Skip Bayless @RealSkipBayless
Sure looks like Heat trying to get even w/ Spurs for sending home Duncan/Parker/Manu before Nov game @Mia. LeBron, DWade, Mario hurt? Hmmm.2013-3-31 23:23:22
Popovich derisively dramatized his reaction to the news:
"What kind of s--- is that?" the Spurs coach said after stepping a few feet backward in mock astonishment. "Are you kidding me? Who would think of something like that? That's below the belt. There's no place for that."
In a separate interview on camera, Popovich cleaned up a similar reaction:
Popovich, of course, was working his comedic routine. But while the circumstance is similar, it’s a contrasting offense—there is no double standard here.
The Heat’s resting of players was far less damaging to the league’s interests and bottom line. The obvious difference here is that Popovich sent his guys home...in November.
It would be ridiculous for the league to take any action against the Heat for resting their stars having already accomplished all they could possibly accomplish in the regular season in preparation for the playoffs.
But it all goes to show how asinine the fine against San Antonio was in the first place.
The league may have had the right to be upset at the Spurs for ruining a big-money national TV game by resting its stars early in the season, but it didn't establish a precedent to handle similar situations in the future.
Stern is now sliding down that slippery slope. The league will never be able to monitor credible injuries versus the resting of players with long-term strategy and success in mind.
Now, Pandora's box is set to shoot out all sorts of head-scratching double standards.