Does David Stern Have The Right To Dictate NBA Team’s Lineups?

When NBA Commissioner David Stern hands over the reins of power to Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, in February of 2014; the Association will be in far better shape then when he took the job in 1984. The NBA relegated to the back burner of pro sports in this country; was almost an afterthought, with the NBA Finals broadcast by CBS on a tape delay basis, starting the games at 11:30 pm on both the East and West Coasts. That resulted in fans of the Association, seeing the opening tip-off a full seven hours after it took place. It was at that point however, that two young stars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson; became household names; soon to be followed by the third member of the “Holy Trinity Of The NBA” Michael Jordan.

Stern’s main agenda, from the time he took the top job in the Association; was to turn the NBA into a global presence; and he has accomplished what he set out to do. The game now has fans all around the globe; one can see locals sporting NBA jerseys in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. The Association now plays preseason and select regular season games outside of the country, to huge crowds; winning more fans in the process. More and more international players have joined the Association over the last few years, with stars from Eastern Europe and Spain, among others showing they can compete with America’s Best.

The Commissioner’s time in office, has been far from controversy free; as he has presided through two lengthy Lockouts, during his tenure; as well as making other decisions that raised eyebrows among longtime NBA observers. Wielding the term “in the best interests of the NBA,” as if it were Captain America’s shield; the native of New York has never been shy about flexing his muscles.

The latest incident of Stern possibly over-stepping his boundaries; started on Thursday, as San Antonio Spurs bench boss Gregg Popovich decided to send home four of his top players, rather than having them play against the Heat in Miami on Thursday night. Pop decided that it was better for the season long interests of his squad, to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Tony Parker the night off, after coming off a pretty rough stretch of the schedule and hosting the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. That idea, however did not sit well with “The Great And Powerful Stern” and “NBA.com” reported that the Association fined the Spurs $250,000 for their actions.

Stern released the following statement along with the fine. He wrote “The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. 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. 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.”

Although, one has to have empathy for the fans of the Heat, that were looking forward to seeing San Antonio’s stars on their home floor, did David Stern cross the line by penalizing the team? With the track record that Gregg Popovich has amassed over the years, didn’t he deserve the right to decide just what was best for his team? Has the Association entered a new era in which NBA bench bosses have to get approval from the NBA Front Office to sit a player? If that is the case, then the Association should issue lineups for every game and do away with the head coach; relying instead on an offensive and defensive coordinator to call the plays.

Last year the Association, stepped in to stop a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers; also under the guise of being “in the best interests of the NBA,” although the team that traded Paul, the New Orleans Hornets would have gotten a better package than what they received when the point guard was traded to the Clippers. Reports at the time stated that some smaller market clubs, pressured the Front Office not to allow the Lakers deal to go through and with the team at that point owned by the Association, he suffered some bad press, but the deal was stopped.

I wrote at the time that I believed Stern had crossed the line in that situation; however I see this incident setting a far worse precedent for the Association. This is far beyond micro-managing; in my view this crosses the line into downright interference with the operations of a franchise. Stern seems to forget that sometimes “the best interests of the NBA,” begin with the best interests of each team. If the Association can challenge Gregg Popovich, the longest-serving coach in the NBA, about how to run his team; then no coach is beyond question, in Stern’s view.

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