TORONTO -- NBA commissioner Adam Silver can’t do anything about the sub-zero temperatures at All-Star Weekend, but he can do something about the epidemic of intentional fouling that is sweeping the NBA.
Silver said Saturday night in his annual All-Star address that he has shifted toward changing the so-called Hack-a-Shaq strategy. No rule change will be enacted this season, but Silver said a clarification could be made before regular-season games resume Thursday night to end the ridiculous tactic of jumping on a poor free-throw shooter’s back to put him at the line.
“My personal view is beginning to change on the issue,” Silver said. “Last summer, I said I was personally on the fence. I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made.”
When the competition committee met last summer in Las Vegas, it decided that data from another season was needed before a consensus could be reached on changing the rule. The data are in, and Silver said the strategy has been deployed at a rate 5½ times more than last season.
Those are damning numbers that vindicate fans and viewers who are sick and tired of watching NBA games devolve into non-basketball fouls and free-throw shooting contests.
Changing a rule requires a two-thirds vote of the Board of Governors. Deciding what to change it to will be the difficult part, Silver said.
“Even among the strongest critics of the so-called Hack-a-Shaq strategy, there doesn’t appear to be any consensus on what the new rule should be,” Silver said.
NBA owners are meeting Sunday in Toronto and will discuss a rule clarification, and Silver said he expects a memo to be sent to teams clarifying that jumping on a player’s back to intentionally put him at the free-throw line could result in a flagrant foul.
“We’re watching those instances increase of players deliberately fouling and literally jumping on other players’ backs in order to get the referees’ attention,” Silver said. “We’re very concerned from a safety issue because it is a dangerous move.”
It’s also unappealing, sophomoric and has nothing to do with playing basketball. Indeed, Silver said part of the momentum to move toward eradicating Hack-a-Shaq resulted from conversations with the league’s TV partners, who next season will begin paying $2.6 billion annually to broadcast NBA games.
No matter how much money is involved, it’s about time the league begins moving in this direction. Those who dismiss the entire issue based on the simple call for players to “make their free throws” are badly missing the point. Yes, when you’re fouled in the course of an actual basketball play -- trying to make a shot or move around a screen -- then you should make your free throws.
But when someone chases you in the opposite direction that the ball is being advanced to grab your jersey ... or wraps you up during a dead-ball inbounds play ... or jumps on your back in the free-throw lane ... those are not basketball plays.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I hate the strategy,’” Silver said. “But it’s a much more, I think, difficult issue to decide exactly what the new rule should be.”
Other interesting items from Silver’s address:
• In recognizing that the league is holding an All-Star Game outside the United States for the first time, Silver hinted that an overseas All-Star Game could happen down the road. “We haven’t crossed an ocean yet to play an All-Star Game,” Silver said, “but who knows what the future holds for the NBA?”
• In the context of a question about the logistics of an overseas All-Star Game, Silver revealed that he’s talking with the National Basketball Players Association about possible changes to the length of the season, the beginning and end of the season as well as the timing of the draft. Some have suggested moving the draft to after free agency.
• He fielded a smart question from USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt about potential conflicts of interest for Jerry Colangelo, who is serving as both chairman of USA Basketball and chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers. Though NBA coaches have long served as head or assistant coaches with Team USA, it’s the first time the organization’s top two decision-makers have had direct personnel roles with NBA teams. USAB Head coach Gregg Popovich also is coach and president of the San Antonio Spurs.
Silver said when Colangelo got the Sixers job, USAB put in place “a series of checks” so that the selection process for Team USA would be by committee, as opposed to Colangelo unilaterally picking the team. “Jerry was very agreeable to those changes,” Silver said.
• Silver took a wait-and-see approach on the possibility that this summer’s massive spike in the salary cap could undo the mechanisms put in place during the 2011 lockout to ensure competitive balance. Many of those system aspects -- such as a more punitive luxury tax and other restrictions -- were designed to prevent stars from clustering together in certain markets.
“We’d prefer a system where teams are managing for cap room, and we’d prefer a system in which stars are distributed throughout the league, as opposed to congregating in one market,” Silver said.
However, only five years into the agreement, the unanticipated boost in broadcast revenue has created a circumstance by which, for example, the defending champion Warriors -- who already have three All-Stars, including the reigning MVP, Stephen Curry -- could have room for another maximum-salaried star this summer.
“We’ll see what happens this summer,” Silver said. “There will be unintended consequences from all this additional cap room this summer. I just don’t know what those consequences will be.”