Friday, November 30, 2012

The Real Problem with Gregg Popovich Sitting his Stars

The 1994-95 Houston Rockets won the title as a 6th seed, the lowest to win in NBA history

There are too many teams in the playoffs.  There, I said it. 
That’s what is at the heart of this latest “controversy” with Coach Popovich sitting Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan.  When Coach Pop sat them (as he had done a few times last year with virtually no blowback from the national media or the Commissioner he did so at the tail end of a six-game road trip. On a team with old veteran players Greg Popovich (one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the NBA) sat the stars on his team.  Old teams need rest; Doc Rivers does this every year because he’s the pilot of an aging airline in Boston.

As a fan, it is easy to get angry about teams sitting the entirety of their contingent of stars for the purposes of rest.  Teams charge more when stars come to town.  Look at the disparity between what your team charges for the game your local team is playing vs. the Heat and the price for when the Wizards come to town.  That difference in tickets is the Star Charge. When those fans purchased the tickets (and shelled out the extra money) they did so with the understanding that they’d be seeing the Spurs and not the JV equivalent. Yes, stars miss games throughout the season…but not ALL of them, and certainly not when they are all (presumably) healthy.

[Sidenote: The game actually turned out to be awesome, with Ray Allen knocking down ANOTHER late-game shot to beat the surprisingly spry backup Spurs. If LeBron loses the handle on that eventual assist, this play or sit conversation can’t sustain itself with the same vigor] 

There is a TV/money component to this situation as well.  The Heat game was a nationally televised game on TNT (Founded by Ted Turner, former owner of the Atlanta Hawks) and Stern was certainly not pleased with the national media coverage putting a microscope on an NBA employee tanking an NBA game.  Moreover, he promised that “substantial sanctions” would be levied against the Spurs despite the fact there is no rule preventing coaches from sitting their players whenever they deem fit.

The only reason that Popovich felt comfortable sitting his stars is because eight out of 15 of the Western Conference Teams make the Playoffs. Eight, that means over half the teams in the Western Conference make the postseason (I did the math in my head).  It’s only because with a roster like the Spurs have, throwing away a game or two isn’t important.  The Spurs can coast in at any record above .500 and presumably make the tourney.  If the teams were reduced to 6, then the Western Conference would have to leave out a quality team.  Imagine if the Lakers, Clippers, Mavs, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Warriors, and the T’Wolves and Thunder were all fighting for six spots instead of 8.  The reduced number of spots would increase the competition among teams and prevent the “Throwaway” games we saw last night and see at the end of every regular season.

How would you tweak the NBA schedule/playoffs to make sure coaches wouldn’t be tempted to do this again in the future?

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