Does NBA Commissioner David Stern rescind his pre-game apology to fans after the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat treated them to a nip-and-tuck battle on TNT? Or does he still follow through on his threat of "substantial punishment" against the Spurs for not suiting up their top players?
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich drew the ire of Stern on Thursday when he revealed that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Danny Green had been given the night off. With his team finishing out a grueling six-game road trip, Pop had sent four of the team's top five scorers back to Texas, as first reported by Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
In a statement released shortly before tipoff in Miami, Stern made it clear just how angry he was about the Spurs' move.
"I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Pop's decision to rest three veterans and a fourth player who has been logging heavy minutes drew heightened scrutiny because the Spurs-Heat game was to be broadcast by TNT as part of the network's weekly Thursday doubleheader. Suddenly the most anticipated and hyped game of the week lost quite a bit of starpower.
And Stern was steamed. Of course, he may not have been as agitated as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team nearly lost to the short-handed Spurs before pulling out a 105-100 win. Thanks to 20 points from Gary Neal and impressive efforts from Tiago Splitter, Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, San Antonio's Junior Varsity nearly stole this game from Miami, holding a lead into the final minute.
As anyone who has watched Popovich mumble through an awkward in-game interview can attest, he has never seemed the least bit concerned with the quality of the league's television product. Speaking before the game, however, Popovich indicated that he could understand why fans might feel shortchanged by his decision. He also made it clear that he has a different set of priorities than those in the stands -- and, apparently, in the Commissioner's office.
"If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I'd want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren't there, I'd be disappointed. So I understand that perspective," Popovich told reporters before the game, via NBA.com. "Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is - the basketball team and what's best for it."
While Popovich will merely have to hope that parents of 6-year-olds will understand his position, he may find himself having to explain it to Stern. In that case, the three-time world champion coach can merely refer back to similar actions last season that went unpunished if he needs precedent to justify his decision. To compensate for the compressed schedule following the conclusion of the NBA lockout, Duncan, Parker and Ginobli all received extra rest during the season. Seeing as how the Spurs finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, he could hardly be blamed for trying to apply some of those same practices to the 82-game schedule.
Or could he?
"I cringe but then I un-cringe," said Stern in April 2012 on the subject of Popovich resting players during the 2011-2012 season . "We knew in some ways it might be intensified by the compactness of the season. That's something we have tried to do in recent years, is not try to coach for the coach."
Have the circumstances changed (no lockout)? Or has Stern? Is it the league's place to allot rest to veteran players? Should teams be responsible for entertainment value of individual games or just where they finish the season?