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Popovich: 'Disappointed' in $250K fine from NBA

Popovich: 'Disappointed' in $250K fine from NBA

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Gregg Popovich said Saturday night he doesn't know if the San Antonio Spurs will appeal a $250,000 fine from the NBA for sending his star players home to rest instead of playing them against the Miami Heat.

Speaking publicly for the first time since NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down the stiff penalty Friday, the Spurs coach and team president said he was ``disappointed'' in the decision.

``What I do from my perspective is from a coaching perspective,'' Popovich said. ``And I think the league operates from a business perspective. And I think that's reflective in the action that they took.''

Rather than play Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili - three of the NBA's biggest names - against LeBron James and Miami in a nationally televised game Thursday night, Popovich put them on a plane and sent them home. It came at the end of a six-game road trip and after the Spurs had played five times in seven days.

Swingman Danny Green was also put on that early flight to San Antonio. Popovich justified his decision in Miami by saying he didn't want to subject Green and his aging Big Three to so much wear-and-tear this early in the season.

That decision infuriated Stern.

He apologized to NBA fans before the Miami game and vowed his office would hand down ``substantial sanctions,'' which Stern delivered on the next day. He said he ``concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.''

Popovich bristled when asked before Saturday night's game against Memphis whether he might nonetheless do the same thing, as the NBA's reigning coach of the year often does when posed with hypothetical questions. But he didn't rule it out, either.

``I don't have a crystal ball,'' Popovich said.

Popovich said he had discussions with the league before the fine was announced but did not elaborate. But one thing the two sides did not discuss, apparently, were guidelines the Spurs should follow the next time they want to rest their stars.

He said any deliberations about whether the Spurs will appeal would be done privately.

``That's not a confirmation or anything like that,'' Popovich said. ``I have no idea. It's out of my hands.''

Teams are required to report as soon as they know a player will not travel because of injury. The league's statement said the Spurs were in violation of league policy reviewed with the board of governors in April 2010 against resting players in a manner ``contrary to the best interests of the NBA.''

Stern also pointed out that it was the Spurs' only trip to Miami this season and that the team made the decision without informing the Heat, the media or league office in a ``timely'' fashion.

Mark Cuban, the outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner who can relate to heavy NBA fines better than anyone, said Saturday the NBA would have been within its rights to perhaps fine his team's top rival even more.

Cuban said he respects the Spurs and called Popovich ``the best coach in the league.'' But he said the NBA is a business and called national television contracts the ``money train'' that decides whether the league is profitable or not.

The fine against the Spurs ``maybe should have even been higher, because the amount at stake is enormous,'' Cuban said.

Cuban, however, said the NBA isn't completely blameless. He faulted the league for putting the Spurs on national television at the tail end of a long road trip, when San Antonio was unlikely to be playing at its peak.

``You can make the counter-argument that even though the Spurs did what they did, the league was just as guilty for putting them in that position, which was pretty stupid,'' Cuban said.

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whose team entered a half-game ahead of the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference, said Popovich has a right to manage his team however he wants.

``I don't say it's bad, I don't say it's good,'' Hollins said. ``That's Pop's decision. I do what I do with my team and he does what he does, and the 28 other teams do the same thing. Each coach has a responsibility to his players and his team.''

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan addresses latest Andre Burakovsky trade rumors

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USATSI

Caps GM Brian MacLellan addresses latest Andre Burakovsky trade rumors

Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky dodges trade rumors like Indiana Jones escaped giant rolling stones.

When Burakovsky made it through the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline still with Washington it appeared he was here to stay a while longer. He even played better down the stretch. But that might not have been enough to save him. 

Multiple NHL sources said Wednesday that Burakovsky would likely be dealt at this weekend’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. There is no question he is drawing interest from teams around the league.  

“We'd like to keep him around, but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in a conference call on Thursday. “But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

MacLellan, as blunt a general manager as there is in the NHL, might be employing semantics there. The Capitals are trying to get what they can and won’t undercut their own leverage by saying Burakovsky is out the door.

Burakovsky has frustrated coaches and executives alike in Washington. He flashes great potential and has the pedigree to be a solid middle-six forward. But he’s been stuck on 12 goals three years in a row and can’t seem to find a consistent role. Last year he was a healthy scratch six times. 

Injuries played some role in that in previous years. But Burakovsky hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities, either. Yet he has also come up with some incredible goals. Three times he’s scored in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. No one can forget his goals against Tampa Bay in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final that secured Washington’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s also entering his age-25 season and had 17 goals in his second season in the NHL. 

But with a $3.25 million qualifying offer due Monday and the salary cap possibly tighter than expected, Washington might not have a choice even if it has a last-second change of heart on trading Burakovsky. 

It’s not know exactly what kind of deal the Capitals are pursuing: A one-for-one deal with a player who has his own issues? A mix of draft picks and prospects who won’t contribute to a team in “win-now” mode? Washington could always pull back – as they did at the deadline. But without knowing what MacLellan feels he needs from a Burakovsky trade it’s hard to know what would give him another chance to stay.

MacLellan wouldn’t even commit to tendering Burakovsky that $3.25 million qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline. He said Washington will take a look at the salary cap once the NHL gets around to announcing it hopefully by Saturday at the draft. Then they’ll check back with the agents of all their RFAs – Jakub Vrana is safe - and decide how to proceed. 

But if they don’t qualify Burakovsky, the one other RFA they have the rights to who would draw interest around the league, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign anywhere. Hard to see how that benefits the Capitals to lose an asset they claim to value for nothing. Time is running short.

“Andre had a frustrating year this year, but I think he finished it up well,” MacLellan said. “I think from the trade deadline on, I thought he had a good playoffs. We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player.”

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Uncertainty over NHL salary cap has Caps GM Brian MacLellan frustrated

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Uncertainty over NHL salary cap has Caps GM Brian MacLellan frustrated

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a number in his head. It is the most important one for any NHL executive heading into the offseason: $83 million. 

That was the expected salary cap for the 2019-20 season and – with some small margin for error – the amount MacLellan and his staff used to formulate their offseason plan. But it is June 20 and the number that was originally at $83 million could drop to as low as $81.5 million, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. 

Given that Washington has some carryover for bonuses and overages from last season worth about $1.150 million, it could be working with a cap number as low as $80.35 million. That is not ideal for a team where every dollar could spell the difference between upgrading its middle-six forwards or adding a veteran fourth-line player. 

The NHL is expected to come to an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association soon and let teams know the number by Saturday, the second day of the entry draft in Vancouver. That’s a few days later than normal, however, and forces GMs to make decisions during the draft regarding trades and picking prospects they otherwise might not.   

"It's frustrating. We've been projecting using that 83 (million dollars) number for the last part of the year,” MacLellan told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “At some point, we switched back to the 82.5 because there was some rumblings there, and now it seems to be going back a little further. I know it seems like it's not a large amount of dollars, but it does impact teams that are right at the number as far as salary.”

On an $82 million cap, the Capitals have about $9.7 million in room according to the great web site CapFriendly.com. But they need to sign restricted free agent Jakub Vrana and add four other bottom-six forwards and a depth defenseman. That is an extremely tight fit and might rule out some free agent options MacLellan had interest in. 

The free-agent “interview” period begins Sunday when teams can talk to agents of pending free agents and gauge what their demands will be and if they are a fit when the market opens on July 1. 

That, in turn, effects negotiations with Vrana and any other RFAs (Andre Burakovsky, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos) that Washington might want to bring back. Burakovsky is likely to be traded at the draft this weekend, according to multiple NHL sources with knowledge of Washington’s thinking. A further budget crunch would seem to seal his fate.  

MacLellan wouldn’t confirm that and even said “we like the player.” But Burakovsky is due a $3.25 million qualifying offer by Monday so the decision might have been made for them. If the cap is the worst-case scenario ($81.5 million) the Capitals are in a real bind. But they’d like to know for sure.   

“When you see it go down to maybe 81.5, I think there's a pause on our part,” MacLellan said. “We want to see the number before we move forward because it's going to affect our roster decisions even on the bottom end - on fourth line and what we have to do going forward because the margins are that slim for us."

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