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Letting stars skip an NBA game? Come on, Coach, give it a rest

Updated: January 4, 2013 6:18AM

Legendary rockers the Who played the Allstate Arena in Rosemont last Thursday and Friday as part of the “Quadrophenia and More” tour.

It’s a grueling, 36-city, cross-country tour, especially for a band that in 1965 was telling us, “Hope I die before I get old.” Pete Townshend is 67; Roger Daltrey is 68. (Fellow founding members Keith Moon and John Entwistle, of course, are long gone.)

What with Minneapolis, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal in the rearview mirror and Nashville, New York, Newark and more than a dozen other cities to come, one imagines Daltrey and Townshend might have been in need of a spa day and long naps by the time they were heading to Chicago last week.

Imagine if the tour manager had sent Townshend ahead to Nashville last Friday morning so he’d be well rested for the Saturday show at the Bridgestone Arena.

“The schedule is brutal, and for the sake of the overall tour, it was the right thing to give Pete a night off,” says the manager. “He’ll be that much stronger by the time we get to Madison Square Garden.”

Picture the outrage from Chicago area fans who showed up to see the Who only to find some cover-band guy from “The Roger Daltrey Experience” or “Who’s Next” singing lead on “Love, Reign O’er Me” and “The Real Me.”

Forget outrage. Imagine the lawsuits.

Who are those guys?

As ridiculous as that scenario sounds, it’s not that much of a stretch from the reality of the San Antonio Spurs traveling to Miami last week to play the Heat without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Danny Green. With the Spurs facing their sixth road game in nine days, coach Gregg Popovich elected to send his stars to Dallas a day early so they could rest up for a “more important” game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Never mind Spurs-Heat was a national TV game —exactly the kind of matchup TNT had in mind when it inked a nine-figure deal with the NBA. (Granted, TV is the very reason for most scheduling aberrations in the first place.) Never mind the Spurs travel to Miami exactly once a year, and that fans paid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to see LeBron James and Co. square off against future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

Let’s say a parent fortunate enough to have the discretionary dough bought tickets for the Heat-Spurs game as a Christmas present last year. His son and daughter play basketball for their respective grade school teams, and he wanted them to have the chance to see the defending NBA champs squaring off against a team with multiple NBA crowns — a team led by the great Duncan, an exemplary superstar on and off the court. For months they’re looking forward to the game, but then Coach Popovich sends Duncan, Parker, Ginobli and Green home a day early so they can rest up.

What kind of message does that send?

“If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I’d want him or her to see everybody,” said Popovich. “And if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed. So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is: the basketball team and what’s best for it.”

This is hardly the first time a coach has rested healthy players or limited their playing time in the interest of the big picture. We’ve all seen those late NFL regular season finales in which a team that has clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs rests the starting QB and other skill-position players rather than risk injury in a “meaningless” game.

But we’re not even a quarter of the way through the NBA season. Duncan is 36, which is 105 in basketball years — but even after accepting an $11.5 million pay cut to help the team re-sign some key players, he’s still making nearly $10 million a year.

And Danny Green is all of 25. Sure, he plays a lot of minutes, but if I were a healthy 25-year-old NBA player and the coach told me to go home a day early rather than face LeBron James and the Heat, I would have walked from Orland to Miami to play in that game.

The ragtag Spurs squad actually gave Miami all they can handle before losing by five points. Two days later, the real Spurs defeated Memphis in overtime. See? Popovich is a genius. Without the extra rest, maybe those stars would’ve been gassed in OT.

Popovich says he’s “disappointed” the NBA fined him $250,000. I’m disappointed the league didn’t suspend him for 10 games. Popovich is the reigning coach of the year, a well-respected mentor who has guided the Spurs to four NBA crowns — but this was a bush league move, and it was disappointing to see his star players meekly going along with the decision to essentially tank one game in the interest of winning another.

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