PHILADELPHIA – NBA commissioner David Stern defended the officiating through the first week of the playoffs Thursday night and said he envisions a time when the league will have a dedicated replay official and when coaches will be allowed to throw challenge flags in the final two minutes of games.
“The officiating has been how officiating is,” Stern said during a stop on his playoff tour at Game 3 between the Heat and 76ers. “We have this issue. We have humans that officiate our games and they don’t catch everything. But they’re the best at what they do.”
The opening week of the playoffs included several controversial calls, including one in which Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins was incorrectly credited with a basket in the Thunder’s 102-101 victory over the Nuggets in Game 1 of their series due to a missed basket interference call. The league office issued a statement acknowledging the mistake, but a blatant trip by the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett against the Knicks’ Toney Douglas – helping to free Ray Allen for a deciding 3-pointer in Game 1 of that series – did not result in a mea culpa from Stern’s officiating department.
Stern stressed several times the need to strive for accuracy through replay enhancement without further slowing down the games.
“Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a Talmudic discussion of three referees every time there’s a disputed play,” Stern said. “We might have one person whose job it is to keep the headphones on and always watch. And you might let a coach throw the flag in the last two minutes. We’re striving for accuracy. … We have to find a way to speed the game up, and to get it right. That’s the most important thing.”
With developments Thursday further enhancing Sacramento’s efforts to prevent the Kings from moving to Anaheim, Stern said Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett – chairman of the relocation committee – and several league officials are in Sacramento “verifying” Mayor Kevin Johnson’s assertions to the Board of Governors last week about Sacramento’s renewed financial commitment to the team.
“Our preference was to understand that better, and the verification is under way,” Stern said.
Asked if the recently agreed upon sale of the Pistons to Tom Gores and the expression of interest from Ron Burkle to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento was proof that the NBA’s financial state isn’t as dire as owners say, Stern said, “No. It just means they know we’re going to get a good (labor) deal and they’re already factoring it into their decisions to buy. And they know we’re not only going to get a good deal, but a deal that really makes it sustainable to buy a team.”
Among the other topics addressed by Stern Thursday night:
• Asked if the league needs provisions in a new collective bargaining agreement to prevent “player-made teams” like Miami’s, Stern said, “No, because I have grown up in this league with teams that had great players.” Referencing the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s, Stern said, “To me, you may call me a players’ person, but the players made a deal that says they’re allowed to become free agents and decide where they want to go. And you’re making it into a federal offense to discuss where they might want to play with another player. It doesn’t warm my blood. In fact, if the team that can get those players is under the cap, that’s the way the system was designed to work. I don’t get too boiled for that.”
• However, when asked about a Yahoo! Sports report from December that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert – a key member of the NBA’s labor relations committee – had retained counsel to investigate tampering allegations against the Heat for signing LeBron James, Stern said, “I’m aware of the issue, but there’s been no formal complaint of tampering or anything like that filed. … If there was tampering that someone could prove, that would make my blood boil.”
• Reiterating comments he made earlier Thursday in New York to the Associated Press Sports Editors, Stern said he and players’ association chief Billy Hunter are in agreement that a court battle such as the one consuming the NFL in its labor dispute “should be avoided. … We’re going to do our best (to get a deal). And we’ve got more than two months.”
• After maximum contract lengths were reduced by one year in each of the past two CBAs, Stern said he favored ratcheting them down again. “Shorter and less guaranteed,” he said. “I have no idea what they’ll agree to and I’m not going to negotiate with them here.”
• On whether the Heat have met expectations, Stern said, “They met my expectations, but they didn’t meet everybody else’s. Before the season, everyone thought they were going to win 75 games and we should just mail the trophy. In fact, it takes a while for a team. This is a team game, and they’ve done pretty well. They’re pretty darn good and they’re playing awfully well, but it hasn’t been the walk in the park that they expected.”