The San Antonio Spurs didn't exactly pull out all the stops when they traveled to Arizona for a preseason matchup with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Five members of the Spurs' rotation stayed in Texas — Kawhi Leonard's got an eye infection, Tiago Splitter's nursing a strained right calf and Patty Mills is still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, while greybeards Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili got a rest after playing regular-season minutes during San Antonio's European exhibition tour. Even Gregg Popovich, reportedly "under the weather" after the 10-day Euro trip, stayed home, allowing offseason addition Ettore Messina to make history as the first European coach ever to lead an NBA team.
The Suns, then, didn't exactly face the full-strength defending champs; even for a Spurs team that has long done this sort of thing, it was perhaps a bit extreme. But it's also preseason, when loads of teams rest players at varying times to varying degrees for various reasons because the games don't really matter.
Well, good luck trying to sell that to Robert Sarver. The Suns' billionaire managing partner didn't take too kindly to San Antonio sending a skeleton crew to his gym, and he expressed his sorrow to his customers ... during the game.
During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns' 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to [the] scorer's table to get on the public address system.
"Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight," Sarver said. "This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I've got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you."
The game's official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. On Friday morning, it was determined that each fan who had a ticket scanned at Thursday night's game would receive an e-mail from the team to outline the redemption process and provide an online link for fans without a physical ticket.
Fans who were in the lower bowl Thursday night will receive a $50 credit that can be applied to tickets, merchandise or food at US Airways Center. Fans in the upper bowl will receive a $25 credit.
"I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn't see the players that they anticipated seeing," Sarver said Thursday night. "It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that."
Sarver said the organization had heard from fans who were displeased that they would not see all of the available Spurs.
"But that wasn't really the reason I did it," Sarver said. "I just think it was the right thing to do."
I mean ... what?
I suppose we should be glad to hear that Sarver's now on-board with the idea of giving Suns fans bang for their buck ("They know you're thinking about them and you realize that they spent a lot of money to buy these tickets"). I'm willing to bet most Phoenix backers would've appreciated Sarver coming around to that way of thinking back in the mid-2000s, when he routinely jettisoned his team's first-round draft picks to save money, resulting in what Pro Hoops History's Curtis Harris identifies as multiple sacrifices of contributors — like Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Marcin Gortat, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez — who could have given those always-the-bridesmaid Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni-led Suns teams the boost they needed to get over the top. (No apology forthcoming on that, we're guessing.)
Sarver said he doesn't think the league should levy any fine or punishment, as Commissioner David Stern did after Pop sat four of his top five guns for a nationally televised regular-season game against the Miami Heat in November 2012. That's good, because A) fining a franchise $250,000 for managing its roster was ludicrous then, B) it didn't dissuade San Antonio from doing it again, and C) no, for real, come on, this was a preseason game.
With all due respect to the folks who paid to watch Suns-Spurs, NBA teams rarely, if ever, give their expected lineups and rotations a full complement of minutes during preseason games. These exhibition matchups often serve as test laboratories for coaches implementing new systems, like Derek Fisher's installation of the triangle offense, or testing how far contributors can expand their games, like Quin Snyder telling Enes Kanter to fire away from deep, or wanting extended looks at prospects who might not make the final 15-man regular-season roster but could become part of their D-League plans. Anyone who purchased a preseason ticket expecting to see 36 minutes of full-bore, high-intensity basketball from Duncan, Manu and Leonard went into the situation misinformed and with unreasonably heightened expectations.
Beyond that, no ticket — preseason, regular-season, postseason — carries with it a promise of seeing precisely the players you want to see for precisely the amount of time you want to see them. The Spurs showed up on Thursday. Danny Green played 26 minutes. Tony Parker played 23. Marco Belinelli played 30. Guys employed by the Spurs in black and silver uniforms, including several who played significant roles on last year's NBA championship team, traveled and suited up. It's not like fans paid to see the Suns play the Spurs and, instead, were forced to watch them take on the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in a game of BASEketball. (Actually, I bet the fans would've been into that.)
You know who didn't seem too bothered? Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, who took advantage of the absence of Duncan, Splitter and Leonard to experiment with smallball tandem groupings featuring his three star-caliber point guards, Goran Dragic (20 points, six assists, three steals), Eric Bledsoe (16 points, six assists, two steals, two blocks) and Isaiah Thomas (15 points, five assists, four rebounds).
"It didn't matter who was out there tonight," Hornacek said, according to Coro. "We wanted to get some things accomplished. They allowed us to do that by allowing us to go small without some of their big guys out. So we got a good chance to practice some things."
Experimentation, practicing and accomplishing some things in a preseason game. Imagine that.
It remains to be seen how many attendees take Sarver up on his offer, but if the Suns' managing partner really wants to show fans he cares about their hard-earned scratch, he could always lower ticket and concession prices rather than blithely and bizarrely offering store credit. That'd be a neat gesture. We won't hold our breath, though.
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