With the playoffs fast approaching, The Point Forward is taking a look back at the best and worst of the 2013-14 season. First up: fines and suspensions.
The two best words to describe the 2013-14 NBA season when it comes to fines and suspensions: non-violent and wacky.
All told, the NBA and its teams have assessed at least 46 fines and 24 suspensions since July 1, the official start date of the NBA's calendar. These disciplinary actions covered flopping, excessively flagrant fouls, participating in and/or escalating fights and skirmishes, off-court behavior, drugs, drunk driving, tampering, and public complaints about the league's officials. Sixty-two players, four coaches (Jason Kidd, Michael Malone, Mike Woodson and Randy Wittman), an owner (Mark Cuban) and an organization (the Rockets) all found themselves on the wrong side of the law this season. Together, more than $1 million in fines have been handed out, and close to $800,000 worth of player salaries have been lost due to suspensions.
It's worth nothing that the amount of some fines and the specifics of a few suspensions were a bit muddled, so the preceding figures are as close to precise as possible. Also, to be clear, those numbers do not include the minor fines that accompany technical fouls and flagrant fouls.
So why does "non-violent" qualify as a descriptor for this season? Through Monday, there hasn't been a single on-court incident that has triggered a multi-game suspension. The only suspensions that lasted longer than one game were for violating the league's drug policy (Terrel Harris, Larry Sanders and J.R. Smith each got five games) and for pleading guilty to drunk driving (Nets coach Jason Kidd and Devin Ebanks missed two games each). All on-court incidents resulted in only one-game suspensions. Contrast that with the 2012-13 season -- in which Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson all earned multi-game suspensions -- or Metta World Peace's seven-game suspension during the 2011-12 season, and the NBA league office is surely pleased with the results of its tightly enforced policies against fighting and skirmishes.
But the real headliner here? The "wacky" part. NBA players and coaches getting sanctioned for strange behavior is nothing new, but this year's crop of fines definitely brought out the weirdness. All of the following activities or objects played a role this season: the "Sam Cassell dance," a discount hotel registration desk's broken keyboard, spilled soda, untied shoelaces, Twitter threats, a request to be fined, a free-agency victory lap, tossing a ball to a fan, and taking a child to the locker room after an ejection.
You can't help wonder whether the NBA's discipline czar, VP of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn, has a rubric that helps him categorize all this nonsense.
"Mr. Thorn, it's Commissioner Silver on the line, he wants to know how you plan to crack down on this epidemic of guys celebrating by pretending they have giant cojones?"
The conversation pauses as Thorn fires up his color-coded Excel spreadsheet.
"Let Adam know that we'll stick with a standard $15,000 for a first offense. Be sure to tell him that I personally warn these guys not to test me by becoming repeat offenders!"
Before counting down the top 10 fines of the season, let's take a quick look at the numbers. Many thanks to the invaluable Eskimo.com fines and suspensions database.
- Total fines: At least 46
- Total fine amounts: At least $1.04 million
- Types of fines: Hard fouls/Fights/Ejections (18), Criticizing officials (8), Flops (6), "Big Balls" dancing (3), Off-court behavior (2), Tampering (1), Other (8)
One fine that's not yet on the list but could be coming: Toronto rapper Drake, who was appointed the "global ambassador" for the Raptors earlier this year, visited Kentucky's basketball team after they clinched a spot in the NCAA title game. A similar 2011 locker room visit by then-Nets minority owner Jay-Z drew a $50,000 fine because contact between NBA executives and college athletes is strictly limited. The NBA league office will likely need to determine how formal or informal Drake's role is with the Raptors and whether his contact with 2014 draft-eligible players crossed the line.
- Total suspensions: At least 24
- Total salary lost due to suspensions: At least $799,000
- Types of suspensions: Hard fouls/Fights/Ejections (16), Drugs (3), Drunk driving (2), Team conduct (2), Off-court incident (1)
In case you were wondering, then-Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum and then-Nuggets guard Andre Miller are responsible for the team conduct suspensions, and both were traded shortly after things blew up. Celtics forward Jared Sullinger's alleged domestic abuse situation fills the "off-court incident" category.
Another note: Bucks center Larry Sanders was recently hit with a five-game drug suspension. Sanders is out injured after taking a blow to the face that damaged his eyesocket, and he isn't expected to return until 2014-15. His suspension is set to begin once he is medically cleared to play and it just so happens that the first year of a four-year, $44 million extension will kick in at the beginning of next season. If he doesn't return this season, Sanders is expected to lose $500,000 in salary for the five-game suspension, which would have been the largest single penalty of this season. For the numbers above, Sanders' suspension was included in the tally but his lost salary wasn't, as he hasn't lost it yet.
Here's a rundown of the worst of the worst and the costliest of the costly.
- Most expensive fine (overall): Houston Rockets -- $150,000 -- Free-agency violation
- Most expensive fine (owner): Mark Cuban, Mavericks -- $100,000 -- Criticism of officials
- Most expensive fine (coach): Jason Kidd, Nets -- $50,000 -- Spilling soda on court
- Most expensive fine (player, including J.R. Smith): J.R. Smith, Knicks -- $50,000 -- repeatedly untying shoelaces of opponents
- Most expensive fine (player, not including J.R. Smith): LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers -- $45,000 -- escalating an on-court incident
- Longest suspension (coach, including Jason Kidd): Jason Kidd, Nets -- 2 games -- DUI guilty plea
- Longest suspension (coach, besides Jason Kidd): No one
- Most expensive suspension (player, including J.R. Smith): J.R. Smith, Knicks -- 5 games, $252,000 -- Failed drug tests
- Most expensive suspension (player, not including J.R. Smith): Andrew Bogut, Warriors -- 1 game, $127,000 -- Involvement in fight
- Worst repeat offender (coach): Jason Kidd, Nets -- 2 fines and/or suspensions
- Worst repeat offenders (players): J.R. Smith, Knicks and Mario Chalmers, Heat -- 3 fines and/or suspensions
- Ugliest incident: Blazers/Warriors fight -- Two suspensions and three fines
Without further ado, here's a look at the top 10 fines of the 2013-14 season.
10. Andray Blatche, Nets: $15,000 for "Big Balls Dance"
This has been a big week for Sam Cassell, thanks to Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison's late-game heroics in the NCAA tournament. His teammates sure seem impressed.
Performing the old Cassell celebration led to $15,000 fines for Andray Blatche, Caron Butler and Jameer Nelson this season. The Point Forward is giving the nod to Blatche because he wasn't even on the court when he went to the "Big Balls" to celebrate a late jumper by teammate Joe Johnson back in November. Getting fined while on the bench adds a real degree of difficulty. Officially, the NBA refers to the "Big Balls" dance as an "obscene gesture."
9. Dwight Howard, Rockets: $25,000 for softly tossing the ball towards a heckling fan
This fine was red meat for critics who believe the NBA has gotten too soft.
Late in the fourth quarter of a November game between the Rockets and Mavericks, Howard drew a foul, much to the chagrin of a Dallas fan who pointed and yelled at him. Rather than deliver the ball to the referee, Howard turned to look at the fan and then softly tossed the ball in his direction. Seeing this unfold, the referees assessed a technical foul. The league office, always wary of negative player/fan interactions after the Malice at the Palace, tacked on a $25,000 fine after the fact. What really makes this fine great is the fan's angry, defiant slap of the ball, which can be seen in the last few seconds of the video below. Nobody is backing down in this confrontation!
8. Gerald Wallace, Celtics: $10,000 for using profanity after a loss
The vast majority of on-the-record interviews in the NBA are conducted entirely without profanity, especially with the proliferation of video cameras in the post-game locker room setting. There's a designated cooling off period for players following each game, and the players understand that a league is going to crack the whip when the expletives come out because there are fans of all ages to consider. When profanity is used, then, it's often quite funny.
Just a few weeks into the season, veteran forward Gerald Wallace was coming to terms with just how long a year it was going to be for the rebuilding Celtics. After he barely played in a 24-point blowout loss to the Rockets in November, Wallace unloaded, according to MassLive.com.
“I don’t know what the f— (the loss) was, just to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t really know what was going on. It just seemed like we got in one zone, and it was all offensively. Things weren’t going right for us offensively and it affected us in transition defense, our half-court defense and just mentally out there on the court.”
“It was bad because you see it and you want to help, and you try to tell the guys what’s going on in the situation,” he said. “I think it’s just the fact that they’re not getting it. You look up at the scoreboard and you’re getting your butts kicked every night. And these are pretty good teams that take advantage of that situation. We’ve got to understand, this is a long season. We’re only (12 games) into the season. We’ve got about 60 more of these. If you’re going to look up and you’re down 30 or you’re giving up 40 points in the first quarter for the next 60 games, that’s going to be a long season. Sh–.”
Wallace said the NBA official who delivered word of the fine was actually pretty nice about it. The Boston Herald reported Wallace's version of the exchange.
“They read to me what I said,” Wallace said, “and then just told me, ‘OK then, well, we understand you’re having a rough season. Hope your season gets better,’ and hung up the phone.”
As for an explanation, Wallace said, “They said something about the league was, I don’t know, family friendly or friendly family or something. I said, ‘OK.’ ”
His season did not get better. The loss to Houston dropped Boston to 4-8. The Celtics are 19-46 since then, proving Wallace's "that's going to be a long season" revelation quite accurate. To make matters worse, the 31-year-old Wallace is averaging just 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds this season, his worst numbers since 2004-05. There's no doubt about it: this has been a nightmare year for a player whose contract and age leave him stuck in a bad situation.
7. Zach Randolph, Grizzlies: $25,000 for publicly criticizing the officials
The gold standard for publicly criticizing the NBA's officials was set by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban back in 2002. “Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen," Cuban said of Rush, who was then the league's head of officiating, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Nothing is topping that from a quality perspective, but this year was deep in quantity when it came to yelling at the referees. Joakim Noah unleashed a tantrum, Kings coach Michael Malone apparently called a referee a "coward," DeMarcus Cousins is always screaming at someone, and John Wall took a hit to the pocketbook for disputing a call at the end of a game.
But The Point Forward's favorite anti-referee screed this season came from Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, who was apoplectic that Rockets guard James Harden went to the line 25 times during a Houston victory over Memphis in December. The direct criticism is humorous to read, but it's certainly worth listening to the audio -- included below -- for the full effect.
“It’s obvious, it was the refs tonight,” Randolph said, when asked for the game’s turning point. “Eight against five. The game — in the second half — the man was shooting free throws every time. We’re out there playing hard. They’re dictating the game. It can’t be like that, man. We’re out here playing too.”
“It was horrible refereeing — a horrible game they reffed tonight,” Randolph continued. “Awful. They dictated the game. Plain, point simple. They dictated the game. We’re out here working as hard as them. Come on, man.”
You can just hear the deep-seated lament seeping through the computer speakers.
6. J.R. Smith, Knicks: $25,000 for threatening Brandon Jennings on Twitter
Now we're really getting to the "wacky" stuff mentioned above. For whatever reasons, the Knicks decided to sign J.R. Smith's younger brother, Chris Smith, to a contract this season, even though he's clearly not an NBA-level player. The arrangement came back to haunt New York after a series of early-season injuries, as Chris Smith took up a roster spot that limited the Knicks' ability to sign a short-term replacement. Eventually, New York would part ways with Chris Smith, but not before brotherly love cost J.R. Smith some money.
Pistons guard Brandon Jennings started things off by calling it how he saw it: Chris Smith shouldn't be in the NBA when there are more deserving players on the outside looking in.
“Wait wait wait [JR Smith's] brother is in the NBA but Pooh Jeter [and] Bobby Brown isn’t,” Jennings wrote. “Call me [a] hater but [I'm] not Rollin!!!”
Jennings later deleted the message, but Smith responded with a series of posts, including one message that was read by some as a veiled threat.
No respect for these lil kids who pop at the mouth on twitter an then want to delete they tweets! #GrowUp! #ManUp! #Facts!
Might call some of my Number street homies [and] put #Detroit on smash for a min! #DeadSerious
No war! But ain’t no #peace
The exchange, which occurred in mid-November, cost Smith $25,000, as the league determined that Smith had "directed hostile and inappropriate language" towards Jennings. The back-and-forth also led to approximately two million "Number street homies" references on social media over the next month.
The New York Daily News reported that Smith denied he had threatened Jennings and argued that he was merely sticking up for his brother.
Asked before Thursday night’s game whether he intended to threaten with that message, Smith said, “No. There’s a way to threaten somebody and that’s not the way to publicly threaten somebody.”
Said Smith Thursday of his brother: “It happens every day, people criticizing (him), talking about what he deserves and doesn’t deserve. I think he works hard for what he does and whoever doesn’t like it, doesn’t like it. … I was definitely frustrated. You get tired of people trying to pick on your little brother. It’s my little brother – I am going to step up for him good, bad or ugly. It’s not just Brandon. It’s anyone who says anything about him.”
Once Chris Smith was finally released in December, J.R. Smith tweeted cryptically about "betrayal." Amazingly, this entire saga was only the second strangest thing that Smith was fined for this season. Even more amazingly, it wasn't even a close second.
5. Matt Barnes, Clippers: $25,000 for failing to leave the court in a timely manner and using profanity on Twitter
Since Nov. 2008, Matt Barnes has been fined and/or suspended at least eight times, putting him among the league's most frequent repeat rule-breakers. He's escalated fights, pleaded guilty in an off-court case, throat-chopped an opponent, thrown the ball into the stands, and criticized the officials, among other violations.
The journeyman forward really got his money's worth following an ejection from a mid-November game against the Thunder. After staring down Serge Ibaka during an on-court tussle, Barnes detoured to the sideline to pick up his son before heading to the locker room.
“I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these ——!” Barnes wrote. “All this s— does is cost me money.”
Rarely is any situation in life simultaneously as serious and goofy as Barnes' post-game antics. One minute, he's collecting his child from the stands as if he hadn't arranged a babysitter. The next minute, he's sparking sparing a national discussion about race-related language because he used the n-word in his Twitter post, which he later deleted.
One day later, Barnes apologized for his behavior, but he still wasn't able to escape a $25,000 fine. Did he learn his lesson? Of course not. A little more than a month later, Barnes was fined $25,000 for again failing to leave the court in a timely manner following an ejection. This time, his son didn't make a cameo.
4. Mark Cuban, Mavericks: $100,000 for criticizing the officials
Picture this as the NBA discipline version of Babe Ruth calling his shot.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has racked up almost $2 million fines since taking over in Dallas back in 2000. He's always on the referees and he regularly campaigned for improvements to the league's officiating practices during commissioner David Stern's tenure. When it became clear that Stern was going to retire in February after 30 years on the job, Cuban told reporters that he planned to get one final fine from Stern for old time's sake.
He got his chance after a mid-January loss to the Clippers. Upset with a late foul against Shawn Marion, Cuban walked onto the court and began yelling at the referees.
Of course, Cuban was just asking to be fined, literally.
"I couldn't let the [commissioner] go without a proper farewell," he tweeted after the fine came down. "It's been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the [doughnut] fund!"
One nice touch to complete the incident? The NBA's press release announcing the sanction attributed the fine directly to Stern, rather than to NBA VP of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn, which is the usual custom. The cat-and-mouse game continued until the very end.
3. Glen Davis, Magic: Undisclosed amount for late-night incident
We don't know how much the Magic fined Glen "Big Baby" Davis for a late-night tirade at a budget hotel in November, but we do know that the video of the incident is irresistible. Davis was caught on camera throwing an Orlando Travelodge’s computer keyboard during a meltdown that was reportedly prompted by a lack of vacancies. Police were called to the scene, but Davis managed to escape any charges.
In hotel security camera footage of the incident, obtained by TMZ Sports, Davis can be seen putting his head down on the counter in frustration, reaching over the counter to grab the keyboard, throwing the keyboard, and stomping out of the lobby.
The incident, which took place at 4 a.m., occurred while Davis was sidelined with an injury. For the record, Davis was on Orlando's books for $6.4 million this season before he was bought out. Also for the record, one night at an Orlando Travelodge starts at $59, according to the discount hotel chain’s website.
After the buyout, Davis signed with the Clippers, but the headlines followed him across the country. Last month, Davis had a verbal exchange with coach Doc Rivers, who decided to end the argument by ordering Davis to the locker room. “I love Baby,” Rivers said, according to the Orange County Register. “I just didn’t think emotionally he was ready to play tonight so we told him to go into the locker room.” There was no fine or suspension after that Baby tantrum.
2. Jason Kidd, Nets: $50,000 for intentionally spilling soda on the court
It's not easy going neck-and-neck in the absurdity department with J.R. Smith, but Jason Kidd isn't your ordinary NBA head coach. Although this was a 10-item list, there's little doubt that the whole process boiled down to Kidd vs. Smith for the top spot.
During a late-November game against the Lakers, Kidd was staring at the possibility of falling to 4-11, even though he had the benefit of the league's most expensive roster. Down two with no timeouts left and just 8.3 seconds remaining in the game, the rookie coach instructed guard Tyshawn Taylor to "hit me" while he held a plastic cup of soda and ice in his right hand. Taylor bumped into Kidd’s arm during the conversation, causing the soda to spill on the court, and Kidd initially bent over as if he was going to scoop up the ice cubes and cup before an official stopped the game so that an attendant could clean up the mess. The stoppage in play iced (sorry) the Lakers' free-throw shooter and gave the Nets a chance to diagram a final play.
Internet sleuths quickly unraveled the scheme, even though Kidd initially blamed the sequence on "sweaty palms." In the days that followed, further investigation would reveal that longtime NBA coach Del Harris might have inspired Kidd's stunt. In any case, this was a terribly unprofessional thing for a coach to get caught doing, even if there was a little twisted genius to Kidd's actions. The incident stuck with Kidd as Brooklyn's struggles continued, and he defended the stunt by saying he was simply "trying to win."
Now that the Nets are back on track and firmly in the playoff picture, is it safe to say that the incident is water -- or soda -- under the bridge? Possibly, considering that Kidd has taken home multiple Eastern Conference Coach of the Year honors this year. However, it seems likely that such an audacious action will be a stain that endures for years, set to be resurrected any time Kidd's teams start under-performing.
1. J.R. Smith, Knicks: $50,000 for repeatedly untying shoelaces of opponents
As bad as Jason Kidd's soda spilling stunt was, no one explicitly warned him beforehand not to dump a soft drink on the court. No one should have to do that, of course, but it still never happened.
The same can't be said for J.R. Smith's low point of the season. Following a January game between the Mavericks and Knicks, the NBA league office contacted Smith to tell him not to untie the shoelaces of his opponents. How did this possibly come up? Because Smith had bent down during a free throw to untie a lace belonging to Shawn Marion.
Later that week -- after the warning -- Smith attempted to untie the shoelace of Pistons forward Greg Monroe while they both lined up for free throws. He didn't succeed in his mission, but he did prove that he wasn't exactly respectful of the league's authority on the subject.
Following the repeat performance, the NBA levied a $50,000 fine for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct." To date, that's the largest fine for a player this season. $50,000 freaking dollars because he couldn't keep his hands to himself and he couldn't resist the urge to be a goofball for one single game.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson spoke directly about Smith’s antics on ESPN New York 98.7 FM after the second incident.
“I’ve always said I don’t condone things that I know you shouldn’t do,” Woodson said. “No, I’m not happy about this. He was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, it’s not right. I just got the information, I’m going to address it [Thursday] when he comes in here for work. It’s unacceptable. It really is. It’s unprofessional. That’s the only word I can use. … You can’t do that. You just cannot do it. … At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up. These things have got to stop.”
Smith eventually issued an apology.
“Huge apologies to my team, to the league [and] most of all you the fans,” Smith wrote on Twitter. The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year didn't contribute consistently enough, and the Knicks didn't win enough, for him to take home any hardware this season. Instead, he'll have to settle with the knowledge that he's bolstered his reputation as the undisputed Clown Prince of the NBA.