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David Stern's Spurs Punishment is a Blatant Abuse of Power

Maybe David Stern watched the movie “Lincoln” recently and didn’t really care for it. Maybe he’s not a Daniel Day Lewis fan. Whatever the case may be, it’s not hard to picture Stern in a powdered wig and a puffy shirt, vehemently opposing the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution after the crap he’s pulling on the San Antonio Spurs.

General Stern want to impose “substantial sanctions” on the Spurs for sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home before Thursday night’s game against the Heat because Gregg Popovich thought they needed the rest. In other words, the General doesn’t give a you-know-what about whether or not the Spurs are doing what’s right for their team. He’s going to crack the proverbial whip.

Here’s what Stern said before the Spurs-Heat game:

“This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Or, maybe it was unacceptable that the Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights (in a regular length season, not a condensed one like last year) and their sixth game of a road trip. That’s a lot of wear and tear for an older team that has championship aspirations. When the goal every year is to compete for a championship, shouldn’t that be the deciding factor in how teams run their operations?

Not according to the General. He doesn’t give a sh*t how tired you are. He doesn’t give a sh*t that you are doing what’s best for you team  - considering it’s YOUR team, not his. He doesn’t give a sh*t that the Spurs nearly won the game anyway, which would have been the ultimate validation for Popovich. Nope. He owns you, and if you forget it – even for a second – he’ll strike. So what if he okayed a brutal schedule for the Spurs. That’s his call.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Spurs next game is against the division-leading Grizzlies, a game that is more important to them than a crossover game against the Heat.

“It’s the best thing for our team,” Popovich said before Thursday’s game. “Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule. We’ve done this before in hopes we’re making a wiser decision and not a macho decision. Perhaps, it’ll give us an opportunity to stay on the floor with Memphis on Saturday night.”

That’s smart. He wants to win, but he has an eye on the larger picture. What would Stern have done if Popovich brought all the players to the game, but had them sit on the bench in suits instead of jerseys. Would he be imposing “substantial sanctions” then? What if they were in uniform, but simply didn’t play. What does he do then?

The problem with the General’s plan to sanction San Antonio is three-fold. One, it’s clearly just a form of posturing, trying to show that he’s got the biggest dick in the NBA and nobody should dare do anything outside the box, because Stern will pretend that it’s illegal. Nobody in their right mind looks at what Stern is saying and says, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, David. Fine a team for not playing certain players.”

Secondly, it’s a Pandora’s box, because it’s essentially dictating on which players are the best in the league and how they should be coached. Is Stern going to hand down sanctions to the Heat if LeBron is a little sore and Erik Spoelstra doesn’t want to play him in crunch time of a semi-meaningless regular season game? Do stars have to play a certain amount of minutes? Is there a number of stars that have to be held out for the offense to be sanctionable – for instance, if the Spurs had just kept Parker and Ginobili out, would they still be sanctioned?

Thirdly, who the heck is David Stern to tell a team how to try to best set themselves up for a title run? He can apologize all he wants to the fans for what the Spurs did, but I’m fairly certain those fans would rather see the Spurs win a title then see a gassed Duncan/Ginobili/Parker/Green combo run around in an early season game. Down the stretch, when a team has already locked up the No.1 or No. 2 seed in their conference, is Stern going to start cracking his whip on teams who rest their players for the playoffs?

It’s such a laughable, twisted grasp at being the biggest man in the room that it’s impossible for Stern to try to swing this in his favor – even if he’s trying to appeal to the fans by “doing what’s right.” Fans know that the Spurs aren’t wrong here, and they certainly can see through the General’s ridiculous notion that San Antonio is doing something unacceptable by managing their own team the way they see fit.

If I’m not mistaken, the Spurs have been pretty damn good for the past decade. I think they’re doing something right.

The General’s stance is even contradictory to the one his office took last season, when Popovich did the same thing. Granted, last year’s schedule was condensed, but who cares? It wasn’t any more grueling than the current stretch the Spurs are in.

“The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver told in April with the qualifier that it was a lockout-shortened season. “And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second guess.”

Everyone knows that Stern has done stuff like this before (the blocked Chris Paul trade comes to mind), but this is above and beyond. Maybe Stern hadn’t captured in a headline in a while and was angry more people tune into Thursday Night Football than Thursday Night Basketball. Maybe he’s just an a-hole. But the idea that he can start commanding teams to play their own players a certain amount of minutes or a certain amount of games is such a ludicrous abuse of power that the Spurs should try to sue him and see what happens. I know what would happen – they’d win.

Because David Stern doesn’t own them. He’s the commissioner, not their master.

Update: The Spurs have been fined $250,000.

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