Was Gregg Popovich right for resting his players against the Heat? Was David Stern right for fining the Spurs $250,000?
Our five writers weigh in on the controversy in San Antonio.
1. How has your opinion of David Stern been affected?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: I don't know if it's changed. It's no secret that Stern's primary and secondary concerns are on the business end of basketball. What he did was in the interest of saving face with network broadcasters and disgruntled fans, which he is right to do. I'm just not sure if the sanctions address the larger issues at hand.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: It largely hasn't. Stern treats the NBA as the big business that it is, and this has largely been for the best. However, at times his domineering style complicates situations that could have been solved more elegantly by a more diplomatic commissioner. We knew this before last week.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Not much. The things that define Stern and his tenure in my mind, such as my Sonics leaving and the league's effective, star-driven marketing, have already happened.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: I am not the biggest David Stern fan, but I applaud him for finally protecting the league's economic interest. Stern's NBA has made so many questionable business decisions (the insistance on moving to small markets is especially strange) that a cold, cynical money calculus is almost heartening.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: By this particular episode? It hasn't. It was a mistake to back himself into a needless corner by coming out with such an explosive statement before Thursday night's game even started, compounded by the fact that the Spurs' B team played so well and almost won anyway. And now Stern has everybody wondering what sort of coaching decisions will and won't trigger fines in the future, which is obviously problematic. But it's also worth recognizing that the general reaction to anything punitive that Stern does from now until he finally steps away on Feb. 1, 2014, is likely going to be outrage. Stern Fatigue was already rampant out there because he's been in the job so long, Yet once he announced his retirement date, that cemented a Just Go Already mentality that will surely surface again (and again) over the next 14 months.
2. How has your opinion of Gregg Popovich been affected?
Chau: It hasn't. What I admire in Popovich is his willingness to take unconventional routes to strengthen the team and its cause. The success he's amassed is partially due to his tactics, which often work around the nature of the NBA's 82-game season. It's insolent and subversive. It's also a key to Pop's success.
Gordian: It largely hasn't. Popovich is concerned with the success of the San Antonio Spurs and that alone. However, he is combative and, when given the opportunity to ruffle feathers while still pursuing the best interests of the team, will gladly do so. We knew this before last week.
Mason: It hasn't been. This is entirely in line with his coaching philosophy: players first. He knows they will need to stay fresh to remain healthy throughout the season, and they likely appreciate the concern.
Strauss: It made me feel like Popovich increasingly plays to a certain caricature. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but "Happy" Gregg flouts NBA decorum more often than I recall him doing in the past. I love that Pop is so Pop right now. Related: I am not a TV executive or sideline reporter.
Stein: Not one iota. Pop essentially got his franchise fined for disrespecting the league and the game by sending his guys home in such a brazen manner -- like swinging on the rim for a full minute after a dunk -- but it's folly to suggest this is some sort of lasting strike. He was partly trying to send a message about how mad the Spurs were with an early schedule that had them visiting the defending champs in the fourth game in five nights -- on TNT -- while Miami was playing just its third of four games in a span of 16 nights. But it doesn't do anything to his coaching legacy except maybe make him even more popular with players for his willingness to take on Stern.
3. Fact or Fiction: A fine was warranted.
Chau: Faction. Perhaps Pop's insolence went overboard, and perhaps a fine was in order to temper Pop's obvious disregard for anything outside of the team. But for Stern to say that his actions were a disservice to the game? No, the game keeps on going strong, no matter what strategy a coach throws at it. Just look at the final score.
Gordian: Fiction. A coach should be able to manage his roster however he chooses without regard for the commissioner's thoughts. Popovich has rested veteran players several times in recent years, including during nationally televised games. If Stern did not want him to do so in the future, a letter to the league stating that clearly should have preceded a fine.
Mason: Fiction. The league had tacitly approved of Pop's benching strategies for years. The difference is that this time someone at Turner (who nationally broadcasted the game and pays the NBA hundreds of millions for those TV rights) probably got upset that the Spurs' stars weren't playing and put pressure on Stern to do something. In the grand scheme of things for an NBA franchise, $250,000 isn't a huge amount.
Strauss: Fact. This isn't about "fair," as the NBA isn't a federal court. Who cares about "precedent"? This is about money. TNT pays the NBA a lot of it, and they're considering a bigger payout for 2016 TV rights. With billions at stake, you don't let a coach put his finger in your national broadcaster's eye.
Stein: Fiction. I still don't see how you can fine a team for something that wasn't against the rules. The Spurs (and other teams) rested players similarly last season and were publicly assured in April that such decisions were left to the discretion of coaches. There needed to be a leaguewide notice that the policy has changed before fines started flying. A sternly worded warning to all 30 teams the next day would have been the better play. Stern could have issued the apology to fans, too, without locking himself into "substantial sanctions."
4. Fact or Fiction: The Spurs are a PR problem for the NBA.
Chau: Fiction. Though "fact" in the sense that the team harbors anti-stars and mythic "boring basketball" narratives, which the NBA clearly does not want to market. There is some power play involved in this ordeal, but it's tough to imagine the Spurs continuing to be a menace to the commissioner in an overt manner after the sanctions.
Gordian: Fiction. The Spurs are a model franchise. Their players are well-behaved off the court and play hard, smart basketball on it. Other franchises actively seek to emulate San Antonio's model for success, the consistency of which borders on the unprecedented. If the Spurs are a PR problem, it is one the league has pointlessly manufactured.
Mason: Fact, but not a big problem. It's not that they are in a small market, or that they have a style of play that people don't like, it's that the Spurs, as a franchise, are just uninterested in developing their players as nationally marketable "personalities." On the other hand, it's great that the NBA can point to the Spurs as proof that teams can make it in small markets.
Strauss: Fact. While I love their monk-like devotion to pure hoops, it's an approach that leaves other peoples' business concerns wanting. Per those business concerns, a team can either be small market or collectively aloof. "Both" has made for some bad TV ratings.
Stein: Fiction. Quite possibly the funniest question I've ever been asked in any 5-on-5. The drama-free Spurs might be a PR challenge in terms of marketing, given how low some of the TV ratings have been when they've made it to the Finals. They might be a PR frustration on some levels because Pop, with that spy background of his, has always tried so hard to keep everything meaningful San Antonio does out of media view. But we're talking about the NBA's model franchise here. Small-market teams, big-market teams ... so many of them want to be like the Spurs. Problem? Imagine that I just said that in Jim Mora's Playoffs? voice.
5. The NBA season should be ____ games.
Chau: 66 games. Last season wasn't so bad. Now let's try it without the back-to-back-to-backs! This is admittedly a gutless concession. I'm totally willing to give up a few games in the interest of giving players more rest than they're currently getting, but reluctant to sacrifice more, given how heartwarmingly dependable the NBA is in combating our often miserable day-to-day grinds.
Gordian: About 70. More games means more revenue, and the league will never make a decision that undoubtedly would lower revenue. However, if the commissioner's first concern was ensuring that high-usage superstars were fully healthy for a postseason that is exceptionally long in its own right, he would lower the number of games by about a dozen.
Mason: 44 Games. All hail the Kevin Arnovitz model, which would give teams more time to rest and prepare and create time for exciting one-and-done tournaments during the season (like they have in European soccer).
Strauss: I'm with Kevin Arnovitz on this: The NBA season should be 44 games long, with national doubleheaders airing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the remaining 22 games packed into a glorious Wednesday. Imagine how popular basketball could get once people became attuned to when it's on.
Stein: 70 to 82 games. The purist in me who struggles so badly with change ensures that I will not be the one leading the movement to shorten the regular season. I know everyone said after the lockout that we should start every season on Christmas, but I'm not there yet. I will try to be open-minded, though, when someone smarter than me presents a smart plan for making that adjustment permanent.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Beckley Mason is a contributor for ESPN.com. Danny Chau, Graydon Gordian and Ethan Sherwood Strauss are part of the TrueHoop Network.
• Follow the NBA on ESPN on Twitter | On Facebook | On Google+