San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has long been butting heads with the league over resting star players during nationally televised marquee matchups. When TNT schedules the Spurs and Golden State Warriors game for their prime-time slot, they don’t want to find out before tip-off that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard aren’t going to be suiting up because the Spurs just played last night.
Of course, when that happens, TNT doesn’t complain to the Spurs organization or call Popovich up and give him an earful—they go right to NBA commissioner Adam Silver. So, Silver stepped in, passing legislation in September that allows him to fine franchises $100,000 minimum for resting healthy players (especially multiple healthy players) outside of normal circumstances. These fines may come in even hotter for teams that do so during games on national TV.
Pop, a long-time offender, understands the rule is meant to protect the fans, but he would like a bit more clarification about some aspects of it.
“Frankly, it’s a little bit cloudy,” said Popovich. “It’s all done in good faith to make your fans feel like they’re seeing what they want to see for their money, which I understand. I’m just glad I was never one of those guys that rested people.”
After a few laughs, Popovich went on to commend the league for listening to the teams and players. This season, the NBA has scheduled significantly fewer stretches of multiple games in a row, making it easier for coaches like Pop to follow the rules and keep their guys in.
“So, the league, obviously, they’ve compromised a great deal,” continued Pop. “This schedule is great. The way they’ve reduced back-to-backs and four-in-five-nights and that sort of thing, Adam listened, and I think that’s huge. It speaks a lot for how much he cares about the players and the league. The fans are important, too, and we gotta understand that.”
But, how strict will the NBA be in mandating everyone goes? Obviously, guys like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James need to be out on the court if they’re healthy because those are the guys that fans pay big bucks to see. But what about Pau Gasol? Or Danny Green? Patty Mills?
“Some of the stuff is in stone and should not be negotiable. Obviously, Kawhi is but, if Kawhi is healthy, we played last night, I need to play him tonight even though it’s a back-to-back, we’re on the road and he only plays in Boston once. So, same thing with a LeBron or whoever it might be, that makes sense. So I can deal with that. On the TV games, the only thing I wonder about is how far down does the list go? I forget the words—not your important players or your star players or your marquee players or something like that? There’s a word, I just can’t remember what the adjective was, but how far down the list does it go? How do you tell us? Are you going to tell us which ones are the marquee players and which ones aren’t? I guess they will if we don’t play them and the fine comes, then I guess we’ll know this guy is a marquee player.”
I believe the word you’re looking for, coach, is role player. Where do guys like Mills and Green fall here? If Danny comes to Popovich in the morning and says that he’s sore from last night and would prefer to sit this one out to avoid overdoing it, could the Spurs be subject to fines for resting him?
Sure, there are some huge fans of Green out there. They might even be going to the games to see him specifically. But he isn’t a superstar by any means. Where is the cutoff?
Well, Popovich never got to go any further down that road because someone in the audience asked about Kawhi (again). Interview over.
“I don’t even ask. Seriously,” said Popovich, with a sudden change in his mood. “When they tell me he’s ready then I’ll know he’s ready. He doesn’t like to be bugged about it all the time. I don’t want to hear about it all the time. [The media is] going to ask the question, and I understand. When they tell me he’s ready to go, then I’ll look at him on the court, and I’ll decide if I agree. Then he and I can talk about it. But the first step is for them to tell me he is ready to go.”
So, in review, Kawhi will be ready to play when Kawhi is ready to play, and Gregg Popovich is not a doctor. He’s happy to talk about NBA rules, but please stop asking about Kawhi.
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