Is Gregg Popovich Trying to Make Enemies or Just Being Reasonable?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 29, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on November 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If you had your Thursday evening planned around the nationally broadcast game between the Miami Heat (10-3) and the San Antonio Spurs (13-3), you may want to go back and check your local movie listings.

Unless of course you're a big fan of Gary Neal, Boris Diaw or Tiago Splitter.

You see, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker back to San Antonio around lunchtime on Thursday (according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News).

Danny Green accompanied the vets on their return flight. And the team is already missing Kawhi Leonard (knee) and Stephen Jackson (hand).

In effect, Popovich simply confirmed what many NBA analysts and fans have been saying for years—not every one of the 82 regular season games are important.

But the questions bears asking: is the coach wrong for making this type of decision?

Surely, TNT isn't happy with his choice. And neither are the NBA schedule makers who lined up just two games (both assumed to be must-see matchups) on an otherwise quiet night around the league.

But Popovich wasn't thinking about TV ratings when he sent his four players home early from the team's second lengthy road trip this month. He was simply doing what he thought was best for his team, which has already shown that they'll factor heavily in the 2012-13 postseason.

Should San Antonio's coach feel any allegiance to viewers expecting a showdown of two of the league's elite franchises? Surely the interest in his team and the league as a whole has a direct relation to the millions amassed by the longest-tenured coach in the four major sports.

Then again, should Popovich be applauded for keeping the big picture in mind and making a decision that 29 other NBA coaches wouldn't—or, at the very least, haven't? The Spurs coach has laughed at the "logic" behind one of the longest used cliches in professional sports—approaching a season one game at a time.

As an NBA fan, it's frustrating to hear the news. Does anyone expect a partial refund for the thousands of fans who poured their hard-earned money in to securing a ticket to this premier game?

But as an analyst, the move makes sense. Thursday's matchup with the Heat is San Antonio's fourth game in five nights. It's also their 12th road game of the month.

Miami is undefeated in six home games this season. And they lost just five of their 33 home games in 2011-12. So this could have been a Spurs loss even with a full complement of Popovich's players.

This decision won't be a popular one on the blogosphere or the talk radio circuit. In fact, it will bring San Antonio "substantial sanctions" from the league office (according to McDonald).

The effectiveness of this strategic ploy hinge on just how substantial those sanctions become.