Of Gregg Popovich’s decision to send Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home rather than face Miami last night, the Miami Herald’s Joseph Goodman called it “an embarrassment”. Sirius/XM’s Chris Russo spent the better part of two shows howling about Popovich’s disrespect for a league that had made him rich and suggested earlier today that Tim Duncan was lazier than Michael Jordan or Larry Bird (after which, Russo — he of the $3 million salary — left his program an hour early). That a San Antonio columnist would stand up for Popovich is hardly a shock, but the Express-News’ Buck Harvey is entirely on the mark in stating “David Stern can’t tell Popovich who to play and when to play them, anymore than he can dictate minutes.”

Stern said he wanted to “apologize to all NBA fans,” and that was a start. Someone needed to be contrite about a schedule that matched the most rested vs. the most tired for a national television audience. But Stern has never apologized for a crushing schedule. He cares about marketing and television, which is why he decided to get into the business of coaching Thursday night.

Gregg Popovich has gutted his roster before on behalf of the larger goal, and those who have disagreed with him in the past still have an argument. Other teams face similar schedule pinches, after all, and they have kept playing.

Then there’s the point that Popovich has made in the past and did again Thursday. “If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game,” he said, “I’d want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed. So I understand that perspective.” But he quickly added he hopes others would see his perspective, too, that it’s his job to take care of his team. And that’s why he reacted as he did. “It’s pretty logical,” he said.

Popovich has also been consistent over the years, and now Stern isn’t. He will fine the Spurs not because of what they did, but when they did it. On TNT.

Lost amidst some of the debate is that the 9-man Spurs, sans their superstars, nearly beat the defending champs on their home court. Next time this happens, if Pop sends Matt Bonner home on a commercial flight, you’ll know for certain he’s tanking.