Flopping or drawing a legitimate charge -- isn't it all the same game? As the Finals approach and players on both sides of the ball grow more aggressive, these plays will continue to rise in importance. So here's everything you need to know.
5. Flopping is an art form.Doug Moe, the former coach of the Nuggets and consultant to current Nuggets coach George Karl, thinks defenders who fall on their backs are actors. "If you think about it, it's very difficult to knock someone down," he said. "You've got to really drive hard into somebody to knock him flat, but these guys, on the slightest contact, they're going down."
"Oh, well, I disagree," responds Rockets forward Shane Battier, among the best drawers of charge fouls in the league, and someone who resents inferences that he may be a flopper. "It's physics. When you get a stationary object and you get a force coming at him, it's a law of physics you're going to be moved backward.
"Now is the argument, do guys flop? I think that's overstated. I think there's more offensive flopping that goes on than defensive flopping: Guys trying to sell calls and whipping their heads, and guys driving in the lane and flailing their arms -- that's flopping. But no one talks about it, all they talk about is defensive flopping."
Mavericks guard Jason Terry sees merit in Moe's point in view: "Selling the charge is moving your feet and -- right before the actual blow gets there -- go ahead and fall back."
So he is falling before the offender runs him over?
"It's all part of the craft," Terry said. "Shaq's one that you might want to fall down before the contact. Because if you get hit by Shaq, then you'll probably be out for the next couple of games. Keeping that in mind, you definitely want to flop. Flopping is the art of the charge, also."
Terry understands the frustrations on both sides of the ball. "You're talking to the No. 1 guy in the league right now -- I've dunked on more centers than probably any guard under 6-2 in the history of the game, by putting a knee in their chest, using it as a springboard and dunking it."
Which is to say he's also created more griping than any 6-2 guard in history. "All the time the other teams complain about it," he said. "They say I kick them. The refs have kind of cracked down on me, but still, I still get my fair share of no-calls going in knee-high."
Ron Artest is among those defenders who rarely draws a charge as a matter of principle. "I don't like to flop,'' he said. "I hate flopping, it's corny, it sucks. I keep telling the refs sometimes it's a charge, but I'm not falling."
Once can Artest remember being rewarded with a charge call. "It was against Ray Allen," he said. "I stood on my feet, and he hit me in my chest and they said, 'Charge!' And I didn't even fall. You shouldn't have to fall to get the charge."
Battier agrees with his teammate. "I strongly believe that unless you go to the ground, you're not going to get the call," Battier said. "And I'm not saying that's right, and every referee I've talked to I've argued with, and they've said, 'No, no, you don't have to go to the ground.' Well, I very rarely see a charge called where a guy just gets knocked back and doesn't go to the ground."
If Moe was refereeing in the NBA, he says, he wouldn't award charge calls to anyone who needs to be helped up after the play. "The other thing is I wouldn't take anything from the coaches," he said. "If any of these coaches started giving it to me, I'd hit them with a 'T' before they knew it."
Now that's rich, coming from a coach who used to turn into Mussolini at the opening tip.
4. Flopping doesn't have to hurt. Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem is almost Zen-like in his charge-taking. He stands with his hands cupped like he's anchoring the defensive wall for Manchester United, and he is at peace with what will be. "You just exhale as they hit you," he said. "Just exhale and fall with it ... float with it."
"It's like being a stunt man, you've got to learn how to fall," Battier said. "I think I'm the only person alive who's taken a charge in the full court from Shaq and Yao [Ming] and lived to tell about it. Those hurt, but at the same time I know how to fall and absorb the impact so they didn't hurt too bad. You have to protect the private areas.''
The technique is identical for legitimate defenders and shameless floppers: Glide into the landing with the hands behind the hips in order to maintain balance and avoid breaking an elbow against the floor, as Battier once did in a high school game. "My body has calloused over in my lifetime from taking charges," said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who has strengthened his neck muscles in order to save the back of his head from hitting the court.
A few of Fisher's opponents in the Western finals don't share his appreciation for drawing charges. "The last time I tried it, I dislocated my jaw," said Denver forward Kenyon Martin, who was in college at Cincinnati a decade ago when the team doctor wrenched his jaw back in place while he was on the court. "Stand in there and take a real charge? I don't plan on doing that one."
Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups isn't big on taking charges, either. "It's also the reason why I don't wear microphones," he said. "It was one of those ABC games four or five years ago. I took a charge and wound up landing on my back, on the microphone pack. Boom -- and man, it hurt me so bad, I've never worn a microphone since."
3. Europeans are superior floppers. This affinity has to come from the highest levels of soccer, where players not only dive but routinely writhe in fake agony, only to hop up and resume full speed as soon as the referee has issued the yellow card. European soccer players are the kinds of people who wear neck braces after fender-benders, and that attitude has carried into basketball.
"All the European players who come into the NBA know how to take a charge and know how to flop, too," said Orlando Magic guard Mickael Pietrus, a Frenchman who has provided aggressive playoff defense against LeBron James and others. "They teach us to practice charges in Europe."
Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan thinks that's a bad idea for the NBA. "Guys do that in college [practices], but with pros?" he said. "There were coaches years ago that used to practice it -- I heard Pat Riley may have done that back in the early days. But the risk of an injury is too much. We chart the guys who take the charges, and we talk about getting position. But if you practice it and someone falls down on someone's knee, you can injure yourself or someone else."
NBA teams may not practice flopping, but they used to reward it. "Rick Carlisle [as coach of the Indiana Pacers] used to have a kitty set up and the person on the team who drew the most charges in a month would get $1,000" Magic guard Anthony Johnson said. "That made everyone try and step in and take charges. You could do a lot with that extra stack [of money] in a month's time; I never won it, though. I was normally the guy getting beat, so I wasn't in position to draw the charges. Al Harrington and Jermaine O'Neal usually got the extra $1,000 in their pockets.''
"The 'heart and hustle' team led the league by like 100 charges," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to the high-energy Orlando Magic team of 1999-2000 that helped him win coach of the year. "Back then we used to give $100 a charge, and then somehow they said that was a 'salary cap infringement' so we had to stop doing it when I was with the Magic.
"But for everybody who got a charge it was $100. We'd do it right at the end of the month, our trainer would have the tab. It was great because you would announce the charges. And Tracy McGrady would remember the one month when it was Darrell Armstrong with 15 [charges], John Amaechi 10, Tracy one -- and they would just kill him [in the locker room] for it. And now all of a sudden the next day he was running out, trying to get his body in the way, and it became a pretty cool thing.''
2. Big men shouldn't flop. Many in the league believe charges should be drawn exclusively by smaller players, a prejudice Rivers has fought for as long as he has coached. "In the olden days a big was 'soft' if he put his body in the way and took a charge instead of attempting a blocked shot and getting a foul called on him," says Rivers. "I think we've gotten smarter over the years.
"When I was with the Knicks that was all we did: Patrick [Ewing] took charges, Charles Oakley was a charge machine, and I thought that was when a change happened. Now the bigs know, if they can get there first [in order to draw a charge], that is the same as a blocked shot."
Cavaliers' 6-11 forward Anderson Varejao led the NBA in charges drawn this season, and he has spent the Eastern finals colliding with the league-leader in blocked shots, Dwight Howard, in a yin-yang duel of post play. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy sees merit in both approaches. "I'm a little embarrassed our team doesn't take many [charges]," he acknowledge.
But the old school hasn't surrendered. Whenever Rockets 7-6 center Yao Ming tried to draw a charge this season, his 42-year-old backup Dikembe Mutombo would go berserk. Yao would go down slower than a hunk of glacial shelf splashing into the Arctic, and Mutombo would yell down to the far end of the bench. "As soon as he takes a charge, I go after the assistant coaches; I say: 'What are you all teaching him! Charges!'" Mutombo said. "As a big man you are supposed to swat everything and let everybody know that the basket is in your house and nobody is coming in the paint unless they get the permission."
This point of view comes directly from former Georgetown coach John Thompson, and it makes Mutombo sad to think that his lessons are not being passed onto the next generation. "When he comes to the bench I always curse him out," said Mutombo of Yao. "You will see me screaming at him."
Mikki Moore, the 7-foot backup of the Celtics, led the league in drawing charges two seasons ago, and therefore should represent the more progressive point of view. But he is on Mutombo's side here. "What is he, 7-6?" Moore said of Yao. "He should be catching them out of the air."
1. Floppers cannot be stopped. So long as there are fouls to be awarded and LeBrons or Kobes to be halted, there will always be defenders taking dives.
In recent years commissioner David Stern has raised the idea of issuing additional penalties to floppers. But he was shouted down by coaches who say that the referees already have their hands full trying to discern a charge from a blocking foul: It would be asking too much for them to also decide in that nano-second the intent of the defender.
"The reaction was so harsh by my constituents," Stern said. "So I said, 'All right, all right, don't get excited.'"
In any case, Stern has the impression that the problem isn't what it used to be. "Vlade [Divac] retiring really helped," he acknowledged.
4. Why would the Hawks unload Josh Smith instead of Joe Johnson? After watching most of the season and the last two playoffs, it is obvious to me that Josh Smith has much more potential to be the type of player that could be a top three player on a championship team. Yes he is young, but the past two seasons show that he plays his best in big games. I, for one, firmly believe Joe Johnson is the player the Hawks should move.--John, Guntersville, Ala.
Two things, John: First is that Johnson is entering the final year of his contract, and therefore wouldn't elicit full value in a trade (unless he was willing to immediately sign an extension with the new team), while Smith is locked in for four more years at $48 million.
The problem with trading Smith is that he has a 15 percent trade kicker that was negotiated by the Memphis Grizzlies last summer when they signed him to a restricted offer sheet (which the Hawks matched). That means 15 percent of Smith's total contract -- $8.7 million -- must be paid in a lump sum after he is traded. Which means he would have to be dealt to the Mavericks or another cash-rich team willing and able to make such a huge payment.
The other point here is Smith is an upside talent who may yet mature to become an All-Star. He isn't there yet, while Johnson is the bird in the hand. It wouldn't make sense to trade a 27-year-old All-Star at his peak because such reliable talent is extremely hard to find.
3. Everybody's talking Blake Griffin in this year's draft. I don't see it! The Clippers should opt for Ricky Rubio. A point guard is more valuable than a power forward. Griffin looks to me like a younger Amar'e Stoudemire, but, in my opinion, is not a player who can carry a franchise; he needs a lot of work. Rubio is an accomplished pro, he knows his game and his strengths. Yeah, he needs work on his jumper, but so did Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, right? Yes, Rubio is that caliber of a player. Why not draft him, move BD to shooting guard and see how it works. Do you think that would work out well or is there any reason you wouldn't do it?-- Jake Oakley, Flint, Mich.
A few teams might agree with you, which is why the Clippers might have hurt themselves slightly by declaring their intentions to take Griffin. Teams that want to trade for Rubio can now take their offers to the Memphis Grizzlies, who hold the No. 2 pick; if the league was unsure whether the Clippers were going to draft Griffin or Rubio at No. 1, then all of the trade talk for either player would be directed toward Los Angeles. But the bottom line is that the Clippers believe in Griffin, they're unlikely to receive an offer generous enough to convince them to trade the No. 1 pick, and they wanted to use Griffin's potential to convince season-ticket holders to renew for next year -- all good reasons for making their intentions known.
I don't see Rubio and Davis being able to play together. Is Davis going to yield the quarterback position to an 18-year old? Not likely. Given the state of NBA economics, his contract probably cannot be traded this summer to make room for Rubio (unless a suitor is willing to take Davis in a package for the No. 1 pick).
Most teams would take Griffin No. 1. As a big man with enormous upside, there are fewer questions about him than there are about Rubio. But Rubio is the likely No. 2 pick in the draft.
2. There seems to be more and more chatter between teams as each series goes on in the playoffs. Do guarantees and claims of disrespect make any difference on the performances of players?-- Dan, New Rochelle, N.Y.
I think it's been a relatively quiet postseason. Players from opposing teams used to hate each other -- Isiah Thomas' Pistons versus Michael Jordan's Bulls, for example -- but that animosity has cooled as players have become more friendly with one another regardless of their team affiliations. I've noticed Dwight Howard having a few things to say quietly to LeBron James during the Eastern finals, but out West there is no issue between Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, who became good friends as Olympic teammates.
Cleveland's Mo Williams put unnecessary pressure on himself when he guaranteed a win in Game 4 (to be fair, he wasn't seeking to make a guarantee but instead was drawn in by a line of questioning). A safer play would be to claim "disrespect," which relieves a player of expectations and creates an incentive to "prove people wrong." I do think the way a player approaches the game can make a difference.
1. I watched the end of the Orlando and Cleveland game where James hit the one-second-left shot to win. First, I want to say I am not a fan or enemy of either team. So my question -- and the main reason I have a problem watching pro basketball -- is the moving of the ball to half court after a time out. I don't understand why they are allowed to do this. So what is the reason? I think this is unfair -- I like the college format where you need to drive the ball down the court.-- Nathan, Nashville, Tenn.
That rule was installed in 2001 when the league installed a new package of rules -- including the right to play zone defense -- that resulted in the more fluid, open-court style that has opened up the games and made them more entertaining. The idea is to open up the court at the end of the game and create more options if a team chooses to inbound from midcourt. It may seem arbitrary, but I wouldn't call it unfair as the option exists for both teams.
3. This "weak" draft will grow stronger over the next four weeks. There aren't any guaranteed All-Stars, but the top half of the lottery is loaded with players capable of having long careers. "If you're drafting in the top seven or eight, you're going to get a good player," said a GM who happens to be in the top eight.
Throw in the needs of many teams to revamp their rosters with cheaper talent, and the result is a lot of trade talk. "This is not a draft for ultra-talents, but there are good, nice players," added the GM. "People will be clamoring for top-eight picks because of guys like Jordan Hill. No matter how good your team is, you can put Jordan Hill on your team and he'll play."
2. Hasheem Thabeet will be the slider. The likely candidates to draft UConn's Thabeet up high are No. 2 Memphis, No. 3 Oklahoma City and No. 6 Minnesota -- otherwise he may slide past Toronto at No. 9 and out of the top 10.
This would not necessarily be a bad thing for him. Like every player in this draft, it's crucial that Thabeet land with a team that can accommodate him. Don't you think Brook Lopez is happy he slid last June to No. 10 with New Jersey, where he filled a huge need by averaging 13.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks?
1. Memphis is operating from a position of strength. Even if it turns out that Ricky Rubio would rather stay in Europe next season than play for Memphis, the Grizzlies are going to have plenty of options. They already have a young point guard in Mike Conley Jr. (the No. 4 pick in 2007), who shares the ball-handling with O.J. Mayo (No. 3 last year). There should be a lot of demand for the pick, and maybe the Grizzlies can unload Marko Jaric's contract while filling their need for size. Wouldn't Rubio look good in a 76ers uniform? They could package 6-10 rookie Marreese Speights to Memphis for the rights to Rubio, whose uptempo style would fit nicely while freeing them from having to re-sign 33-year-old Andre Miller.
2. Quicken Loans Arena reminds me of Fenway Park. Before the Red Sox won their breakthrough World Series in '04, that is. During the playoffs, the fans would go quiet when they sensed a recurrence of doom, so conditioned were they to bad things happening. It has been the same in Cleveland as Orlando has threatened to drum out the Cavaliers -- a brooding silence. But not to worry: When LeBron comes through with a championship eventually, whether this year or sometime in future, the Cleveland fans will become as arrogant and unrepentant as the frontrunners in all of the other bandwagon cities.
1. Are the Lakers tough enough? They aren't a physical group, but name a final four team that is. It has been hilarious to hear complaints about the toughness and borderline dirty play of the Nuggets, considering their defense was among the NBA's least intimidating last year with most of the same players who have been opposing the Lakers. As soon as the Celtics were de-toothed by the injury to Kevin Garnett -- who isn't exactly a bruiser himself -- the playoffs were denuded of a tough, lockdown defensive team. Outright physical play isn't going to be the defining force this year. Charles Oakley isn't walking through that door.
1. Enough of the Kobe and LeBron schtick. I don't know how the rest of you feel, but I'm not a big fan of those Nike commercials. While a Kobe-LeBron Finals surely would be intriguing, I haven't sensed a public craving for them to meet. I don't view them as natural rivals, and I'm going to need to see how their duel plays out in an extended Finals before I believe there's something between them. There isn't the innate tension between them -- the makings of a natural rivalry -- that was so obvious in the relationship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I understand Nike trying to get out in front of something big, but it doesn't work for me.