NBA considering significant rule changes

May, 30, 2012
5/30/12
10:44
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Signs are increasingly strong that change is coming to the NBA. At Wednesday's draft lottery, David Stern signaled that he will urge a newly formed competition committee to consider significant rule changes -- for instance, the elimination of basket interference, video analysis to punish floppers and increased video review of flagrant fouls.

He also mused about a fairly significant change to fouls away from the ball late in games: "We should consider one of two things, or maybe both," the commissioner explained. "One is the rule, in the last two minutes, it's one shot and possession for a foul away from the ball. Or, two, just no shots. Give the team that got fouled, let the seconds tick off the clock and you give the ball back to the team that had it."

On May 16 the NBA announced the formation of a new competition committee. Previously, the committee had been comprised of 30 general managers or their designees. Sources who were in those meetings say they were starkly ineffective, with few general managers interested in rule changes and many sending deputies to sit through aimless meetings.

The new committee -- set to meet for the first time at the NBA Finals next month -- is designed to be more nimble, with just 10 members: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Warriors owner Joe Lacob, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor, Thunder GM Sam Presti, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, Celtics coach Doc Rivers and a player to be named by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

Based on Stern's comments, the committee will have a lot to consider.

"There's no shortage of issues to be discussed from rules enforcements to video replay to a variety of other issues," Stern said.

"I happen to be a fan of the elimination of basket interference," he says of the rule that prohibits offensive players from touching the ball while it is in the area above the rim. "I think it's one of those plays that if you look at it, and if you watch the number of times that players either do or don't touch the ball, it really puts the referees in a very uncomfortable position, because even on replay, I'm not sure you can get it right. ... I look at that together with video replay where we have to continue on our march, which has been pretty embracing to expand the areas in which we use instant replay. Those are two areas.

"And in some ways, I guess flopping, I would consider it not instant, but thorough review, I think we are going to approach something that many tell me is impossible, which is deciding whether someone was acting or was actually -- and thereby tending, intending to trick the fans, and the referees; or, whether there was a legitimate reason for that particular person to go sprawling. And then the question is, what to do in that case, and that's the kind of discussion that I look forward to having with the committee."

What progress has been made in NBA innovations in recent years have largely come from places other than the old competition committee. For instance, the coaches association formed a group of head coaches to suggest rule changes, and inspired the league to introduce an amber light in the back of the backboard to indicate the end of the shot clock, some changes to instant replay and a new rule allowing coaches to call timeouts -- a right previously only held by players.

The most significant change in recent years are frequently referred to as the "hand-check rules," but they are not rule changes at all. Instead, based on the advice of a special 2001 committee led by then-Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, the league ended the boring, grind-it-out defensive style of the Pat Riley Knicks by instructing referees to more tightly enforce existing rules against impeding the progress of offensive players, especially with hand-checking. Since then, any contact that affects an offensive player's speed, rhythm, balance or quickness is a foul -- a change that has goosed up the league's offensive numbers; inspiring some of the greatest offenses in NBA history (including this year's Spurs and the Phoenix Suns of a few years ago); and emboldening rim-attacking players like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.

The league also came to allow zone defenses as a way to inspire more five-player offensive attacks focused on ball movement.

That the league is now intent on considering how new ideas and technologies might inspire rule changes that could make the game better is, in and of itself, something of a change.

In 2011, NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson told ESPN.com not to expect rules to change anytime soon: "Right now, we're probably in a period where we're not considering too much," Jackson explained, "because we like where we are. To do something, to try to improve the game, or alter the game with a drastic rule change, right now probably doesn't make a lot of sense. We do like where it is right now. ... The competition committee meets twice a year with the objective of considering possible rule changes to recommend to the board of governors. But the real focus over the last several years has not been the game as much as what's around the game, for instance are there things we can do to utilize technology better in our game. Like, the LED lights we put in, the amber light for the 24-second clock we put in last year, focusing in on instant replay ... those are the items we've really focused in on. The rules changes we've made over the last several years, I'd consider tweaks to existing rules. But not the formulation of new rules."

No new rules are certain. Even if the new committee recommends changes, owners must approve them, which is an uncertain process. Stern's backing alone may not be enough. (Stern has said in recent weeks that he has wanted changes to offensive basket interference and flopping for years, but has been unable to make it happen.)

The commissioner is careful to point out "we don't have any expectations for the new committee."

Nevertheless he is talking about changes big and small, and possibly soon: "We think that by energizing the committee, it will come to meet, which it's planning to do, next month, and go over a pretty broad agenda and see what has to be considered in the long term, and what should be considered in the short term; meaning for implementation next year."

He later added: "I think the competition committee is going to have its hands full, in a very positive way."

Henry Abbott | email

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