Apparently, the NBA believed that the Lakers' 42-point loss to Portland on Sunday night was not punishment enough for Coach Pat Riley's decision to hold two starters out of the final regular-season game. Tuesday, Commissioner David Stern fined the team $25,000.
The league, in a prepared statement, gave no explanation for the fine, stating only that Magic Johnson and James Worthy were "healthy" and yet did not play. Center Mychal Thompson also was held out of the game, but a league spokesman said that because Thompson was coming off a knee injury, his absence was excused. Byron Scott, the fourth missing Laker starter, did not play because of a sprained left ankle.
The severity of the fine, however, indicates that the league believed the Lakers did not try hard enough to win the game because of their decision to play only starter A.C. Green and reserves.
"I have an obligation to our management," Riley said. "I decide who the hell I want to play. If (the league is) going to start getting into the way of who I want to play and when I want to play them, maybe they ought to come out here and put on the coach's shirt themselves, if that's the way the league is getting.
"I'm sort of beside myself on this. Obviously, a new rule has been made, a new precedent set. I didn't do it out of disregard for the league. I did it for the well-being of our players. They do it (rest the starters) in other sports."
Although there is no rule specifying that non-injured starters--or superstar players--must play in all games, one NBA executive said that a team must try to field the best lineup possible and must try to win every game.
"Tickets are being sold with the idea being that (fans) will see all players who are healthy enough to play," said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Riley said he rested his starters in the Lakers' 130-88 loss to Portland, the franchise's most lopsided loss ever, to avoid possible injuries heading into the playoffs.
At the end of the 1984-85 season, when the Lakers did not take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson to Kansas City for the final regular-season game, the Lakers were fined an unannounced amount by the league.
"I can understand (being fined for) not bringing players, which is what happened before," Riley said. "But they never said anything then about not playing them."
Harry Glickman, the Trail Blazer president, complained to NBA officials Monday morning that a capacity crowd and pay-per-view cable subscribers had not paid to watch the Lakers without Johnson, Worthy and Thompson.
"I thought the fine was appropriate," Glickman said Tuesday. "I noticed in other games that didn't mean anything on Sunday that the coaches played their players significant minutes. My feeling is, you have to try to win every game you play."
Glickman said the Trail Blazers had put together a pay-per-view service, charging cable customers $12.95 each to watch the game on television.
"It was one of our best cable audiences of the year, and I'm sure those people weren't paying to watch Mark McNamara (a Laker reserve) play," he said. "Our phones were ringing off the hook yesterday with fans complaining. I can understand if Pat had elected to play his starters just a few minutes and then rest them. But he didn't even try to win the game."
By way of apology, Laker owner Jerry Buss released the following statement: "I know that our fans would have been disappointed had this same thing happened here."