Over the past few years, the NBA has used the D-League, its minor league affiliate, as a testing ground for prospective changes to rule and process. Goaltending rules were altered to allow players to bat the ball off the rim, as is the case in international competition. Timeouts were slashed and overtime periods shortened. And now, in a shift that's likely to draw the interest of NBA fans, the D-League will experiment with a system of punishing flopping violations in real time.
According to a D-League release, game officials will be given the ability -- as of Feb. 20 -- to assess any flopping player with a technical foul:
Application of the new experimental flopping rule will involve NBA D-League officials assessing technical fouls to any player who, in their judgment, has flopped. Officials will be required to confirm all flopping calls on instant replay monitors. The instant replay review will be conducted at the first timeout or quarter break following the flop call, and if confirmed, the technical foul will be assessed at that time. Any flopping calls made in the game’s last two minutes will be reviewed and assessed immediately.
“There isn’t a better place to experiment with NBA rules than in the NBA D-League, and we are pleased to test this experimental rule that, for the first time, creates an in-game penalty for flopping,” said [D-League commissioner Dan] Reed. “The NBA D-League is the research and development laboratory for the NBA and both leagues are always evaluating ways to further the game.”
Of note is the fact that the penalty free throw that results from a flopping technical foul will not be taken immediately after the call itself. In terms of game flow, the flopping technical would be assessed and the game would move on, as the call requires video review at the next stoppage in play to confirm its merits. This arrangement allows officials the full benefit of instant replay without the fuss of interrupting play, a crucial provision in accurately making calls based on exaggerations of contact.
Flopping has clearly been a point of emphasis for the NBA league office this season, as four different players have been hit with fines and warnings have been doled out more frequently on the basis of stricter enforcement. At the 2013 NBA Finals, former commissioner David Stern noted that he did not believe the league's fine-only punishment system to be a sufficient remedy for flopping:
“It isn’t enough,” Stern said. “It isn’t enough. You’re not going to cause somebody to stop [flopping] for $5,000 when the average player’s salary is $5.5 million. And anyone that thought that was going to happen was allowing hope to prevail over reason. But you take a step and you begin to see it.”
Stern also noted that implementing harsher fines was not the end goal, but that installing an initial penalty system for flopping would serve as a starting point for future discussions. This D-League experiment would seem to be the next phase of those intentions. We'll have to see the rule in action before making any determinations of its value, but in theory this would seem to provide a more active deterrent to regular flopping. It's one thing if repeat flopping violations come with a mere $5,000 fine, but another entirely if they can result in an actual point swing. That's a tangible and immediate repercussion that could eventually curb flopping in a way that the fines thus far have not, potentially to the point of satisfying fans who feel the selling of calls has tarnished the game. We're still a few degrees removed from a rule like this being implemented on the NBA level, though the execution and success of anti-flopping measures in the D-League certainly bear watching.