Never mind the angry letter he got from a fan in Portland, who complained about paying for a full-priced ticket but being denied the chance to see a full-strength Spurs. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all sat out a game against the Trail Blazers.
"I understand totally," Popovich said. "I would feel a little shorted if I went to watch Miami play and LeBron and Dwyane (Wade) weren't playing, and they were resting. It's a natural human reaction, totally understandable. But I have a different priority, a different responsibility. That rules for me."
Clearly, he hasn't forgotten what happened in 2011, when Ginobili sprained his right elbow and played the Grizzlies wearing a bulky brace, a mere shell of himself.
"Last year was a huge disappointment to us," Popovich said recently. "To win 60 games and then basically lose Manu on the last game of the year, when should I have sat him? I don't know. I'll ask myself that forever probably."
Actually, the perception of this team — everyone carries AARP cards and stops off for the Early Bird Special on the way to the arena — is a bit of a misnomer. The Spurs began the season with their youngest roster in the Duncan era, including seven players who had no more than three years of NBA experience.
The Spurs got a bit older late in the season, but trading for Stephen Jackson at the trade deadline and signing Boris Diaw after he was cut by Charlotte were vintage moves by the Spurs. Jackson had previously played in San Antonio, so he had no trouble fitting in. Diaw had played with Parker on the French national team, so that was another easy transition.
For good measure, the Spurs also signed Australian point guard Patrick Mills, who played in China during the lockout.
All played valuable roles down the stretch.
All could be even more valuable in the playoffs.
"They've made some great acquisitions," Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "Had they not made all these changes, I don't know where they would be record-wise."
Chances are, they would've found a way to be right where they are now.
A team deserving of another championship.
AP Sports Writer Paul J. Weber in San Antonio contributed to this report.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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