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Weekly Countdown: What rule changes could be coming soon?

This promises to be a big summer for instant replay as the NBA seeks more ways to use it during games ...

5. Clock management. The clock malfunction in Detroit that enabled the Pistons to convert a three-pointer against the Magic after the third quarter expired has created demand for a greater use of replay next season. But it's not as simple as gathering referees around a television at the scorer's table: For rare cases like this one, the league must find a way to synchronize replays with its precision timing system (i.e. the gadget worn on officials' belts that connects their whistles to the game clock).

"We need a combination of replay and some timing mechanism better than a simple stopwatch,'' said Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations. "If the technology is available, we should consider finding a way to reduce the time on the clock.''

The league was pursuing this technology before the incident in Detroit. Its use will be examined by the competition committee in June. The fear of a similar fourth-quarter mishap in the NBA Finals should inspire everyone to seek a resolution as quickly as possible.

4. Goaltending. While the international governing body FIBA recently announced several rules changes that will make international games look more like the NBA (see below), one possible rule that could be imported to North America is the death of goaltending. FIBA competitions -- including the Olympics and the Euroleague -- allow defenders to block shots after they've hit the rim, even if the ball is above the cylinder. The D-League experimented with this rule for two seasons (2005-07) but the competition committee declined to recommend its use for the NBA.

"Some [on the competition committee] felt that it could cause more rough play under the basket, and others didn't see a reason to change the [goaltending] rule as we have it now,'' Jackson said. "But it will remain on our radar for coming years.''

In other words, we may yet see this rule in the NBA someday soon. I am in favor of it as an exciting play that would bring athleticism to the other end of the floor -- the defensive version of the dunk. And it couldn't be dismissed as a gimmick because this rule has been the norm for basketball around the world.

3. Instant replay. The competition committee is expected to consider a proposal -- put forth by the coaches' union headed by Rick Carlisle -- enabling each team to use instant replay to challenge non-judgment rulings, such as whether a three-point shot was a two-pointer. The coaches' rules committee has made a formal recommendation that each team receive one instant-replay challenge to be used in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime. If the challenge of the three-vs.-two call was successful, then the challenging team would retain the right to challenge another play. But if the original call was upheld, then the challenging team would lose either a full timeout or -- if all those timeouts had been spent -- a 20-second timeout. A team without timeouts could not issue a challenge.

2. Flagrant fouls. Despite complaints that flagrant fouls are being assessed for hard fouls that used to be accepted as routine, this is one interpretation that won't be changed. "I'm perfectly happy with it,'' said Jackson, who believes that the deterrent of flagrant fouls has led to fewer hard fouls. "Knock on wood, we've had only two altercations on the floor this entire season in 1,200-plus games, and the number of flagrant fouls is down since last year.

"Now, if you're making the case that we should bring in replay to review all flagrant fouls, that's something we would be open to. That could be brought to the competition committee this year.''

1. Trapezoidal lane. It was surprising to hear that FIBA had sided with the NBA on several rules changes starting in October 2010, including the abandonment of the trapezoidal lane in favor of an NBA-sized rectangular lane. There has long been speculation that the NBA would take on the international three-second area, though San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was among those against it.

"We all talk about that so much, and we all go back and forth with it,'' Popovich told me last year. "The court is so doggone crowded the way it is now, I think it would really limit what goes on out here. When you think about post play, it would really take it away. There are some advantages [to the international lane], but overall guys are too big. If the court got bigger, you could do it.''

Jackson believes FIBA wasn't looking to synchronize with the NBA so much as it wanted to create more space for offensive players around the basket. FIBA also implemented the no-charge zone -- the dotted semi-circle under the basket.

"As hard as the no-charge zone has been to officiate,'' Jackson said, "it has benefited our game and incentivized guys to drive to the rim, and it has cut down on the number of injuries by players taking charges under the rim.''

FIBA also extended its three-point line from the current 20 feet, 6.1 inches to 22 feet, 1.7 inches. FIBA plans to further extend its line over the next 10 years to the NBA distance of 23-9.

There has been talk that the NBA may instead shorten its three-point shot to meet FIBA 2010 specifications. But Jackson doesn't sound as if he's in favor of that.

"We're now attempting more three-point shots and shooting a higher percentage from the three-point line than we have in the history of that shot,'' he said. "Having the three-point line has helped the spacing in our game.''

4. Predictably, much response was generated by a paragraph I wrote last week about Steve Nash. Here is a sampling ...

Your answer to a question about whether Steve Nash is overrated is one of the more inane things I've read on the Internet, which says a lot. Do you really think a large number of NBA fans question Nash's reputation because of his stance on the war in Iraq? That's plain stupid and another way to cover your butt for protecting Nash all the time. Most true/knowledgeable observers of the sport who question Nash and his undeservedly glowing rep point to the fact that he is completely and utterly useless during half of any basketball game.-- Brent Walters, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Well, didn't that strike a nerve!

I talk every day to "true/knowledgeable observers'' who work in the league -- coaches, executives, scouts and players -- and I truly don't hear anyone complaining that Nash is overrated or undeserving of his reputation as one of the NBA's best players. Defense has obviously been his weakness, but it's not like he has played alongside excellent defenders either. His teams have always been built to win with offense, and in that context, the good provided by Nash has far outweighed the bad. That's how I feel about it, and that's also the gist I hear from true/knowledgeable observers.

And yet, I receive an inordinate amount of e-mail decrying Nash as overrated. So last week I wondered if some of the ill will toward Nash from a minority of his critics had something to do with his anti-war stance, based in part on my experiences of hearing a couple of fans complaining to me about it. There are all kinds of reasons to not like a player apart from talent -- maybe his personality, maybe his criminal behavior, etc. -- and so I wondered if Nash's feelings about the war could be grounds for some of the enmity.

Because let's be honest: It's a long list of NBA stars who could be criticized for their defense. But the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Allen Iverson and even LeBron James in earlier years have received a free pass defensively compared to the mail I get on Nash. And I don't understand it.

I am amazed that you would attempt to connect Steve Nash's opinion on the Iraq war (which I wasn't even aware of, by the way) to perceptions that he is overrated. Nash is one of 11 players to get the MVP award more than once. Do you really believe he's one of the top 11 players of all time?-- Luke, Huntington Beach, Calif.

I don't know anybody (except you) who ever has suggested he could be one of the top 11 players of all time, and I don't see how anyone could translate two exceptional seasons into that kind of ranking. The MVP awards recognized his work for two seasons; it's not a career award.

Steve Nash's public stance against the war has nothing to do with people arguing he shouldn't have been MVP once, let alone twice (and I'm in the military). I agreed with him then about the Iraq war and I do now. But the argument can be made that Chris Paul completed a season far more impressive than any of Nash's MVP seasons and he finished as low as fourth on some MVP ballots this year. I don't think Nash is overrated, but neither do I think he is some great player. He had three or four GREAT seasons but is not a GREAT PLAYER and is nowhere near on par with guys like John Stockton or Isiah Thomas or even Gary Payton historically, and will quickly be surpassed by Paul and Deron Williams.-- Wayne, Chicago

Thank you for your well-framed argument. I don't agree with all of it, but it's fair.

3. Do you agree with the NBA advance scout's comment [from last week's Countdown column] that Gregg Popovich is not that much better a coach than Byron Scott? Given the difficulties today's coaches have of keeping players in line with their system and not losing their players' support after so many years of delivering the same message, it seems that winning consistently in pro sports goes far beyond having great players such as Tim Duncan or Chris Paul, or having the good fortune of "being a good coach in a great situation." Would the Spurs have won four championships in nine years if, say, George Karl or Rick Pitino were their coach? Probably not. In the case of San Antonio, or any successful team, it seems to be the ideal partnering of the right coach with the right players.-- Eddie S., Washington, D.C.

I couldn't agree with you more. What Popovich has done year after year puts him -- along with Jerry Sloan -- in a different class. As well as Scott has coached the Hornets this year, Popovich's achievement with one franchise is transcendent.

2. While so much attention has been given to the strength of the Western Conference and the futility of the East, doesn't it seem a bit striking that for the most part the East gave us a better first round? Seriously, who would have thought that the Sixers and Hawks would have won more playoff games than the Mavs, Suns and Nuggets combined? Additionally, as you pointed out, the Hawks and Sixers seem full of promise (and cap space) heading into the offseason while the Western pretenders head into the offseason with little cap space and more self-doubt than ever before. Do you think in another a year or two we will still be talking about the disparity of the two conferences? Or will time strengthen the young teams in the East while weakening the old of the West?-- Jonathan Kastar, Anchorage, Alaska

There are some people in the league who truly believe that the West's superiority is itself overrated, on the basis of having so many bad teams at the bottom of the conference. But I disagree: The East was lousy this year.

It will change eventually. Not so long ago eight of the 10 championships were won by the East, and then Michael Jordan retired from Chicago. The next five titles were won by the Spurs and Lakers, then L.A. unraveled. The last four have been split by the two conferences, and who's to say that the East won't win again this year? If the East were to win three titles in a row, the West wouldn't be viewed as being superior. All it takes is one or two dominant clubs to swing perceptions of one conference's dominance over the other.

1. Why hasn't Bruce Bowen won a Defensive Player of the Year award yet? Do the voters hate Bowen so much that they blindly and classlessly ignore his hard work?-- Bob, Louisville, Ky.

I don't think hatred is involved. Bowen's work does not go unnoticed as he's made the All-Defensive teams the last seven years. But there are a lot of people who view Bowen as a dirty player. My opinion is that he should have won at least one Defensive Player of the Year award. But if it hasn't happened by now, it never will.

3. Messina staying put. Apparently scared off by its disorganized administration, coach Ettore Messina decided against making a long-rumored move to Barcelona. His decision to re-sign with CSKA Moscow was announced on the morning of the team's Euroleague championship game last weekend. Messina signed a one-year contract (with an option year) that will pay him the equivalent of $4 million "net'' next season; the net refers to the payment of Messina's taxes, housing, car, air transportation and other monies by the club. All told, Messina will be paid close to $7 million for the season, making him among the 10 most expensive basketball coaches in the world.

2. CSKA Moscow wins Euroleague for the second time in three years.Trajan Langdon was Final Four MVP for his terrific all-around play, while the shooting of fellow American J.R. Holden boosted CSKA in the early going of its 83-79 semifinal victory over Tau Ceramica. In that game, Spurs draft pick Tiago Splitter had 17 points, but his disappointing 7-of-14 performance from the foul line was crucial.

CSKA center David Andersen was 8-for-8 inside the three-point line in the semifinal, with many of his baskets coming from the post. As a European free agent this summer, he is expected to receive an offer of $4 million "net'' next season to stay with CSKA, which means that the Atlanta Hawks (who own his NBA rights) or another NBA team that acquires his rights (such as Philadelphia or Toronto, both of whom tried to trade for them last year) would probably have to offer him the full mid-level exception. Which is still not a bad price to pay for a 7-foot European veteran from Australia with perimeter range.

Mikhail Prokhorov, CSKA's billionaire financier, knows how to celebrate. Throughout the Final Four, he put on a party at a converted train station in Madrid. On the eve of the championship game, he flew in members of ABBA to perform in celebration of his birthday. After CSKA won, the champions and their hangers-on were seen spraying each other with the most expensive Roederer Cristal champagne as if it were oversized bottles of Miller Lite. Afterward, Prokhorov and general manager Andrei Vatutin headed off to the Seychelles for a celebratory vacation, which Vatutin earned by re-signing Messina and bringing back former Chicago Bulls forward Viktor Khryapa in midseason.

1. NBA goes to India. The league announced it will bring its charitable initiative Basketball Without Borders to New Delhi this summer. It will be the league's first event in India, with local teenaged players receiving tutoring from NBA players and coaches at the American Embassy School of New Delhi from July 3-6.

2. Pistons in trouble? The best-case scenario for Detroit is to get through its series against Orlando without needing point guard Chauncey Billups, who will require as much rest as possible to recover from the right hamstring strain he suffered in the early minutes of Game 3 on Wednesday. Billups needs to be near full strength for the Pistons to get past the Celtics or Cavaliers in the next round, followed by the Lakers, Hornets or whichever team from the West is waiting in the NBA Finals, so it won't do Detroit much good to rush him back to win this series if it renders him ineffective against better competition later this month. Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander is among the best in his field, but this may be asking too much of him.

1. Mike D'Antoni to Chicago? This has been the popular notion for the past week, but I've never bought into it. My hunch has been that the Knicks would have the resources to land D'Antoni as the best coach on the market. I wasn't surprised to hear that they've been preparing him an offer, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he is accepting it. The Bulls present an excellent opportunity and they may yet land D'Antoni, but the chance to reincarnate basketball in New York will be hard to turn down.

1. Upsets might not be so good. After years of complaining that there aren't enough upsets in the NBA playoffs, I was forced last week to consider the possibility of an Eastern conference tournament without the Celtics. Imagine if the Hawks had won Game 7 in Boston. Then the Eastern final four would have been Atlanta, Cleveland, Orlando and Detroit. In the league's seven-game format, those nondescript matchups would have been hard to watch.

If the playoffs were best-of-five or even best-of-three, then upsets would be welcome, because an explosive but inconsistent team like the Hawks is much easier to watch in short bursts than over a 10-day span. For better or for worse, however, this league has been designed to keep the best players and teams on the court for as long as possible.

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