Lakers stay diplomatic on David Stern vs. Gregg Popovich

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich insists he ensures his aging stars escape the NBA grind as best they can. So much that he sat Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gerald Green in the team’s 105-100 loss Thursday to Miami.

NBA commissioner David Stern seems adamant that nothing compromise his brand and TV ratings. So much that he levied a $250,000 fine against the Spurs for leaving their stars out of a TNT-broadcast game.

Nearly 3,000 miles away, the Lakers mostly played the role of Switzerland.

Coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t want to offend Stern: “I’m glad the commissioner is the commissioner. I think everybody has an opinion. But it’s not my place to have one.”

Lakers center Dwight Howard didn’t want to involve himself in any controversy: “It has nothing to do with the Lakers. It has nothing to do with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

But there was one veteran who sounded more than eager in giving enlightened perspective.

“I thought as a coach you can do what’s best for your team,” Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. “But with the ratings, being on TNT and people seeing the San Antonio Spurs play Miami, David has a different agenda. It didn’t surprise me he rested those guys. It surprised me the NBA said something.”

Howard may be right not to care at all about this issue. In his fast-paced offense, D’Antoni hardly has cast himself with a reputation to rest players for significant minutes, let alone entire games. Said D’Antoni: “I don’t want to get into that because you’re talking about the best coach of the league.”

But the incident sparks discussion on a significant issue.

Has Stern set a bad precedent in dictating how a coach should manage his team? Should Popovich feature his players so fans of all sides can enjoy them? Are players obligated to tough it out as many former players of past generations boast they did?

Jamison, a 15-year veteran, weighed all those variables with varying clarity.

He understood Stern’s power: “This is their business. They can do what they want to do.”

Jamison defended Popovich’s intentions: “He’s not doing in my eyes to hurt the game. Of course you want to see Parker, Ginobili and Duncan goes against the Heat and stuff like that and guys were ready for that. But once he gave his explanation on why he did it, I understand it. They’re not the youngest team in the league.”

Jamison nailed down the outside perception perfectly: “As a fan, it would’ve been great to see LeBron [James] try to get shots in the paint against Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili going against D-Wade.”

Jamison also respected how ex-players insist the current one grind out the season by any means necessary: “Old school guys didn’t get iced, didn’t fly. The day and age has changed. We definitely have a it a lot easier than those guys. I respect those guys. I respect the pavement they made for myself. When they speak, I listen.”

But with Stern issuing a sharply worded statement criticizing Popovich’s decision, Jamison remains puzzled.

“That’s the thing that threw me off,” Jamison said. “We all know Pop. He always does it.”

But this time, Popovich was punished for it.

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