By Ben Golliver
From one championship coach to another: I’ve got your back.
Hours after NBA commissioner David Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 after coach Gregg Popovich rested four of his players during a Thursday game against the Heat, Celtics coach Doc Rivers came out strongly in favor of his colleague.
“You’ve got to coach your team to win in the long run and you have to do whatever you need to do,” Rivers said before a Friday game against the Blazers, according to the Associated Press. “If that’s sitting players, you sit players.”
Rivers also took a dig at Stern, who threatened “significant sanctions” in a statement released before the Spurs and Heat tipped off on Thursday.
“I think it was an action and a reaction personally, and I think the reaction was probably overdone [Thursday], and then all of a sudden you have to have an action,” Rivers said, according to WEEI.com.
Popovich, a four-time champion, and Rivers, who coached the Celtics to the 2008 title, are regarded as arguably the two best coaches in the NBA. Both have been floated as possible successors to coach USA Basketball once Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski decides to step down.
In explaining the fine, Stern essentially relied on a “for the good of the game” argument.
“The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami,” his statement read. “The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans. The Spurs’ actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.”
But Stern clearly opened up a slippery slope with his ruling, as coaches need to juggle line-ups and rest players throughout the season for a variety of injuries. Popovich’s decision to not only rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, but to fly them home to San Antonio, was clearly an extreme case. But the issue of a coach’s right to make decisions governing his lineups and the management of players, particularly veterans, over the course of a long season looms large behind Stern’s decision.
The Associated Press reported Rivers’ opinion on the subject, which included the statement that he would strategically rest his players this season if he deems it necessary, regardless of the fine.
‘‘Whatever is going to help your team win, a coach is going to do,’’ he said, ‘‘because if you don’t and it hurts your team then you’re the one that won’t be around.’’
‘‘We’ll do it when we want to do it and we should be able to do it,’’ Rivers said. ‘‘It could be early in the season, the end of the season.’’
Several key members of the Celtics are 30+ years old: Kevin Garnett is 36, Paul Pierce is 35, Jason Terry is 35 and Jason Collins is 33.
Popovich has argued that the strategic resting of players is simply a “very logical” approach during a long season with many games in a short period of time. Thursday’s game was San Antonio’s fourth in five nights and the second half of a back-to-back.
Former NBA coach and current television commentator Jeff Van Gundy also backed Popovich and criticized Stern on Friday.