LAS VEGAS — The NBA’s Board of Governors met on Thursday. Here are some highlights from the Adam Silver/David Stern press session after the meeting:
• The board approved a slew of rule changes that will go into effect next season. Among the most important: Officials will be able to review goaltending calls in the last two minutes of regulation and all of overtime. This issue hit its crescendo during an early-season Portland-Oklahoma City game, one in which the Thunder won thanks to a bogus goaltending call against LaMarcus Aldridge on a last-second Kevin Durant shot in overtime. This is a no-brainer, and the NBA should seriously consider extending the option for review to the rest of the game. The rule applies only to called goaltends — not no-calls on shot blocks in which the ball might be on the way down — and that makes sense. A called goaltending violation stops the game, while the game continues after a non-call. Reviewing every non-call would thus interrupt the flow of the game and is impossible in practical terms.
Reviewing all goaltends could slow the game, but it doesn’t have to. The league could review them during commercial breaks, simply erasing the two points, just as officials can now review foot-on-the-arc jumpers during dead time. In theory, reviews should be immediate since teams want to to play and strategize with full knowledge of the accurate score. But the damage in this regard would be minimal, and an incorrectly called goaltend — and the resulting two points — alters the time/score situation from the moment it happens until the very end of the game.
Also: There just aren’t that many goaltending or basket interference calls — just 350 or 400 per season on average, according to figures the league sent me last year. So it’s not as if you’d be slowing every game to a crawl multiple times with these reviews.
This rule change represents a step in the right direction. Let’s just hope it’s not the final step.
• Officials will be able to conduct in-game review on all flagrant foul calls. When an official calls a flagrant, they will be able to then go to video and review whether the foul should be a “flagrant 1″ or a more serious “flagrant 2″ — or even just a regular old foul. Under the old rules, officials only had the video review option for fouls originally called as a “flagrant 2,” since they result in the immediate ejection of the player committing the foul. They could not review a “flagrant 1″ for upgrade or downgrade. The issue came to a head in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between Indiana and Miami, when officials whistled both Tyler Hansbrough and Udonis Haslem for “flagrant 1s” on violent fouls. The league upgraded both fouls to “flagrant 2s” after the game, and it subsequently suspended Haslem for Game 6.
This is a good step, since it increases the chance that referees make the correct decision on something as important as a player’s potential ejection. It also gives the referees another tool to control any escalation of violence by upgrading a “flagrant 1″ to a “flagrant 2″ if merited, nipping the possibility of retaliation in the bud by booting the first offender. But flagrant foul rulings will remain controversial, and on somewhat shaky ground, as long as the league sticks to a vague definition of what actually constitutes a flagrant — one that centers on whether contact is deemed “excessive” and/or “unnecessary.”
• Ads on jerseys are coming, probably in 2013-14, and they are specifically coming to a two inch-by-two inch area on the left shoulder of your favorite team’s uniform. It will take another year or so to plan for this, but it’s coming. The league needs to suss out how much money teams can make on ad sales, as well as how to split it up (start with giving the players 50 percent) and how to make sure adidas, the league’s jersey manufacturer, can produce replica jerseys with the correct ads on a real-time basis. Jerseys intended for sale to consumers will include the same ads featured on player game-worn jerseys, according to Silver. The league estimates the 30 teams can make $100 million annually combined on these ad sales, though the Knicks, for example, will earn a lot more than the Bobcats. And Silver cautioned that the $100 million figure is a very early estimate.
No moral objections here. This is a business. Jerseys aren’t sacred.
• Nothing for now on changing the basket interference rules to allow players to whack at the ball while it’s on the rim, as they can in international play and the D-League. The league’s competition will take up that topic again in September, and it’s possible the owners could vote to approve it by the start of next season’s exhibition schedule, according to Stern. It’s a popular suggestion, one I wrote about at length at the end of this post.
• No update on flopping, either. As I wrote last month, the league’s flopping problem is probably a bit overblown, and it’s unlikely that the league will give officials the option to penalize alleged flopping violations immediately in games. The league may institute a postgame review option in time for next season, with guilty floppers subject to an escalating series of fines and even suspension. That would provide no real-time justice for a team who loses a possession via a successful flop (i.e., one resulting in a foul call) or a “play-on” flop that nonetheless disrupts the flow of the game. But would it be prove to be an effective deterrent in the long haul?
• Officials will be able to review whether a defensive player on a block/charge call was inside or outside the restricted area in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime. This is very, very tricky, and we’ll have to address it in more detail later. It’s tricky because the defender’s location inside or outside that circle is just one of a few key variables that decide whether contact is a block or a charge. Will referees be able to review all of those variables? The league has generally opted against introducing too many judgment calls into the replay process. Take this scenario: A referee whistles a defensive player for a blocking foul and points to the restricted area semicircle, indicating the defender was inside the circle, and that his position was the reason for the call.
Imagine that upon video review, it turns out the defender was actually outside the circle. But also imagine that video review reveals the defender was moving in a way that would be a violation regardless of his positioning in or out of the circle — an illegal bit of movement the referees missed on first glance. Do you stick with the original blocking call because of that illegal movement, or overturn the original call and rule the play a charge, based on the defender’s location out of the circle? A league source says the reversal would be mandated, and if that’s the case, the NBA has entered dicey territory here. Then again, this is dicey territory regardless.
• The league is on track to approve the sale of the Grizzlies to Robert Pera, Stern said. He added that more prospective owners have approached him this year than ever before about possibly buying a team, presumably because the new collective bargaining agreement makes it much easier or teams to turn a profit. The old CBA guaranteed 57 percent of all basketball-related income would go to current players; the new CBA cuts that to total 50 percent — the equivalent of about $300 million every year going to the owners instead of the players. That obviously makes a huge difference.
Stern also said that the harsher new luxury tax rates, set to go into effect in 2013-14, are already making teams think harder about spending — and especially about handing out long-term contracts. The league this season is also using a new form of revenue sharing, one that will make at least 25 teams profitable within the next three years, Stern said. And according to Stern, a majority of the five unprofitable clubs will be so by choice, meaning they will authorize some temporary overspending in pursuit of a title (or some other goal). One presumes that a couple of small-market clubs — Memphis, Sacramento and New Orleans — may struggle to turn a profit for involuntary reasons.