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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
David Stern vs. "ludicrous" Hack-a-Shaq

By Henry Abbott

Much of the NBA is discussing Dwight Howard's inability to hit free throws, and the tactical opportunity that it creates for Los Angeles Lakers' opponents to foul him early and often. Even if Howard is nowhere near the action, if an opponent grabs him, it is Howard who must step to the free-throw line, and he'll bring his career 58 percent average with him.

Before Wednesday evening's games, Howard had shot a league-leading 203 free throws on the season, of which he has made just 95. The Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant was second but far behind, having attempted just 165 (although Durant has made 149).

Related: The Thunder have the league's best free-throw percentage, while the Lakers are 30th out of 30 teams and are likely to stay there as long as Howard plays starter's minutes -- which Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni says will not change.

Meanwhile, fans are the losers as the most fluid of games is reduced to standing around watching one of the world's most remarkable athletes complete one of the only basketball tasks at which he is horrid to watch. It's an annoyance to the history of the game, and an affront to anyone watching for fun.

So when NBA commissioner David Stern joined the local Fox New Orleans broadcast team for a stretch of Wednesday evening's Lakers vs. Hornets game, a main topic of discussion was what the league might do about changing the rules to keep teams from fouling Howard so readily.

Stern was quick to point out that the league has instituted a rule that successfully stopped the tactic in the last two minutes of games:  Foul a player away from the ball, and after the the free throw, the fouled team gets the ball back. The penalty is so steep that the tactical advantage of fouling is gone.

Stern said he wanted to make that rule last all game.

"I would have liked to have seen the rule changed to make the last-two-minute rule the whole rule," he said. "It was getting to a point last year where, [in the] first period, they were just grabbing players. I think that's ludicrous.

"We tried to change it to any time in the game because last year I guess it was everyone was fouling Tiago Splitter early on and the committee didn't want to do it. And so that's just the way it is. Because the reality is that there are a lot of basketball purists -- and I understand that point of view -- who say, 'Hey, why don't you learn to shoot foul shots? You're supposed to be a pro.'"

It's an issue that won't go away anytime soon, and it puts the purists in an awkward position defending a set-up that prevents actual basketball play.

One suggestion that has been part of HoopIdea previously: Allow the fouled team to decide if they'd like free throws, or possession of the ball. That would touch off a lot of other changes to end-game scenarios, but they'd entirely eliminate any advantage from fouling. And if you think about it, in what world would rules be set up to favor the people who break them? Ludicrous indeed.