Perkins: Only TNT is entitled to be mad at Popovich

MIAMI – Those weren’t the San Antonio Spurs that visited AmericanAirlines Arena and lost to the Miami Heat, 105-100, on Thursday. But that doesn’t give you reason to hate.

We all know those weren’t the real Spurs, not the team that’s won four titles with its Big Three of forward Tim Duncan and guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They were all in San Antonio, chillin’, relaxin’.

Coach Gregg Popovich sent them home Thursday morning, along with swingman Danny Green. Pop claimed he did this in the name of keeping his players fresh for this 82-game marathon of a regular season and the playoffs.

“It was the best thing for our team,” he said.

No, it wasn’t. Pop was just being an obstinate jerk. But that’s his right. It’s his team. The TNT people are the only ones who can legitimately be mad over this incident. They got screwed by televising a matchup between the start-studded Heat and the star-depleted Spurs.

Heat players took up for Popovich.

“I don’t think Pop was in the wrong,” LeBron James said.

Dwyane Wade didn’t dare question Pop.

“It’s what Pop wanted to do and they did it,” he said, later adding, “Who are we to say anything?”

Sending the Big Three home before one of the NBA’s biggest televised games of the season isn’t cool. However, you, as a ticket-buying fan, have no reason to be mad. Neither does NBA commissioner David Stern. It’s Popovich’s decision to coach his team however he sees fit. Damn the fans, and damn the TV ratings.

Of course, that’s not Stern how sees it. He’s mad.

“I apologize to all NBA fans,” he said in a statement released shortly before tipoff. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

At its heart, this whole thing is about TV and control. Stern is saying national TV has some level of control over the Spurs’ lineup; Pop is saying he controls the Spurs’ lineup.

I agree with Pop. I don’t like what he did, but I support his authority to do it.

I’m not sure how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra feels. He kind of took the corporate stance.

“Each organization has a big-picture view of what they’re trying to get accomplished,” he said before Stern released his statement. “And I think the league respects that.”

Look, I understand the big money comes from TV and the league is beholden to that industry to a large extent. I understand this was a big matchup and therefore a big embarrassment for both the NBA and TNT.

I also understand the NBA was going head-to-head with a low-interest NFL game (New Orleans vs. Atlanta) and Popovich blew the league’s chance to win a one-night ratings war.

But Stern has no reason to fine the Spurs. Yeah, maybe they damaged his product a little bit, but they haven’t done it any irreparable harm.

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