SAN ANTONIO — Despite NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s imploring the league’s owners in a memo last week to become more involved in the decision-making process with regard to resting players, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said such involvement could create “a slippery slope” capable of undermining relationships inside organizations.
“I understand Adam’s concern, and it’s a legitimate concern. We all have it. We all feel badly about [it],” Popovich said Saturday. “I think they used the example of the young man and his dad or whatever. They’ve saved up their money. They want to go see somebody play, and that person’s not there. I get it. If it was me, I’d be miffed myself. But we all have different roles, different jobs, and different goals. We can’t satisfy everybody. But I think that every owner’s gonna be different. I think it’s a slippery slope, and makes it difficult to keep trust, and camaraderie to the degree that I think you have to have to be successful in this league if owners get too involved in what coaches and GMs are doing.”
Just three games into the season, Popovich started to rest players, beginning with San Antonio’s Oct. 29 matchup at home against New Orleans. Since then, Popovich has rested a total of six players for a combined 19 games, including Danny Green, who sat out the club’s 106-98 victory Saturday night over the New York Knicks.
The NBA fined the Spurs $250,000 during the 2012-13 season when Popovich sent home Green, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to rest during the end of a six-game road trip that concluded at Miami.
Then-commissioner David Stern explained the fine as a result of multiple transgressions, but mainly because the Spurs failed to alert the league or media of the players’ lack of availability prior to the game. Now, San Antonio announces in advance which players it plans to rest.
In Silver’s memo, he called the current issue of resting players “an extremely significant issue for our league,” adding that teams will face “significant penalties” for failure to follow league rules for reporting player injuries and illness.
Silver indicated there would be a “full discussion of this issue” during the NBA’s board of governors meeting April 6.
On the verge of closing out his 21st season with San Antonio, Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in all of the four major professional sports, and said he has always had the blessing of ownership with regard to basketball decisions.
Popovich indicated that the trust developed among himself, general manager R.C. Buford and Spurs ownership is what has helped the organization build the culture the rest of the league appears to be trying to replicate.
“I think keeping owners informed about what’s going on is mandatory, and having input is fine,” Popovich said. “But I think there has to be an understanding that coaches and GMs have brains also, and we know who pays the bills. It’s a slippery slope, I think, if owners got too involved in that process. That trust relationship in those three areas is really important in creating a culture and making something that can be long-lasting. I’ve been here over 20 years. I think that says it all. They just let us do our jobs. We keep them informed as we should. And the chips fall where they may. If we’re not successful, I’m sure we’ll be gone just like anybody’s gone if things don’t work out well.”
Popovich expressed confidence, however, that league ownership, the NBA’s various partners, and coaches and general managers around the league can come to some type of agreement that would be palatable for all involved.
“The one comment that I’ve heard that makes a lot of sense, is that if you’re gonna rest somebody, if you can do it at home, then you should. Like, we’re resting Danny Green tonight,” Popovich said. “Danny Green is not LeBron James, but if we rested Kawhi [Leonard], if there’s a way we could do it at home, that seems like a logical thing to me; a reasonable thing that a coach or GM should think about, rather [than] that one time somebody’s gonna watch him play someplace else, if you can do it. Sometimes the schedule dictates differently. But that makes sense to me. So I think there can be areas like that where we come together and try to make everybody happy. But that’s why no basic rule has been written, so to speak. Because you can’t write a rule that covers everything. It’s complicated … kind of like health care.”