TORONTO — Is the NBA finally ready to rethink its policy towards intentional fouling?
During his annual State of the Union address from All-Star Weekend, commissioner Adam Silver told reporters on Saturday that the league may change its so-called “Hack-a-Shaq” rules this summer after years of debates.
Citing a significant uptick in intentional fouling during the 2015–16 season, Silver said that he personally was rethinking the issue.
“Up to the All-Star break this season, we’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five and a half times greater rate than it was used last season,” Silver noted. “So to the extent that the data is coming in, it’s showing there is a clear trend and that clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”
While Silver was on the fence as recently as last summer, he said the increased usage of the strategy was forcing him to take a second look.
“I'm beginning to feel that a change needs to be made. And that comes in response to conversations with our network partners. It comes in response to fan data that we look at. … I’m talking to players and general managers and our owners of course.”
Silver said that “no clear consensus” has formed as to what the new rule would look like and that the rules wouldn’t change this season.
There is one potential tweak that could be implemented immediately: Silver said that piggyback-style intentional fouls—those that occur when one player jumps on the back of another player, often during a dead ball situation—could soon be ruled a flagrant foul.
“We’re watching those instances increase of players deliberately fouling and literally jumping on players,” Silver said. “Players jumping on other player's backs in order to get the referee’s attention. We’re very concerned from a safety issue because it is a dangerous move. What we’ve been discussing with our teams and with our players is making clear that jumping on a player’s back could result in a flagrant foul, not just a foul.”
Other than the contentious Hack-a-Shaq issue, Silver took questions on Kobe Bryant’s legacy, the possibility of another international All-Star Game, the All-Star voting process, and the implications of the rising salary cap over the next two years.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been the headliner at All-Star Weekend, as he prepares to play in his 18th and final All-Star Game. With Bryant’s retirement on tap at the end of the 2015–16 season, Silver sent him off with a long series of compliments, noting his basketball skills, his global popularity, and his ability to connect directly with fans.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that he’ll go down as one of the greatest players ever to play this game,” Silver said. I’d say from a global impact, in addition to being a great player, I think because he was raised for much of his childhood in Italy, because he speaks several languages, I think because he was particularly interested in learning about other cultures, I think that he’s had almost—in addition to being a great player, he’s punched way above his weight in terms of the impact he’s had on the global expansion of the NBA.”
Silver added that he hopes Bryant’s retirement plans involve remaining connected to basketball.
“He will be missed in the league,” Silver said. “I spoke directly to him about this on Friday: I think after he takes a little bit of time to decompress, he's going to be looking for ways to stay directly involved in the game of basketball.”
International All-Star Game
This year marked the first time the NBA has held the All-Star Game outside the USA. After praising Toronto as a host city, Silver seemed to suggest the NBA might take All-Star Weekend to Europe in the future.
“We haven’t crossed an ocean yet to play an All-Star Game, but who knows what the future holds for the NBA,” he said.
Asked to expound later in the press conference, Silver said he “is always talking about” the possibility of another international All-Star Game, but that he is sensitive to the impact it would have upon the already-tight schedule.
“Having an All-Star Game internationally … is something we’d love to do one day,” Silver said. “It’s not going to happen in the next two, three, four years, but I think down the road it could be a really exciting element for the NBA. … It’s logistically more difficult than it may seem because there’s a ripple effect in terms of the number of days we take off on the rest of the schedule.”
Silver later added that the NBA wouldn’t consider Asian cities as possible host destinations due to the travel distance involved.
The 2017 All-Star Game is set for Charlotte. The NBA has not yet announced the locations of future All-Star Games after 2017.
All-Star Voting Process
Currently, the NBA’s All-Star starter voting process allows fans to cast votes via numerous social media networks. That system has the potential to be manipulated by coordinated social media marketing campaigns or by the use of celebrity endorsements. In fact, Zaza Pachulia was nearly voted into the West’s starting lineup this year, and the Mavericks center received more votes than the likes of Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis.
Silver said the NBA will consider modifications to its voting process to ensure that the starting lineup spots are given to the most deserving candidates.
“The internet has been disruptive in every industry,” Silver said. “In terms of our All-Star balloting, that’s something we need to look at closely. While we love the fan participation and we’re big advocates of social media, at the same time, I don’t want our All-Stars to be determined based on who has most clever or active social media campaign for a particular player.”
The NBA plans to “look closely at [the issue] next season” and discuss possible solutions with the National Basketball Players Association.
“[We want to] find what is the right balance in terms of player designations, keeping fans involved and active on social media, but also ensuring that we have a process together with the coaches’ selections where we’re truly selecting the 24—the 12 best players in the West, and the 12 best players in the East,” Silver said.
Rising Salary Cap
The NBA’s salary cap is set to spike over the next two years. This season, the cap is set at a record $70 million. That figure could jump to $90 million for 2016–17 and $108 million by 2017-18.
While Silver said he was happy with the current distribution of talent between large markets and big markets, some observers have hypothesized that the increasing cap could favor large-market teams or strong squads, like the Warriors, who would be in an unusual position to add an expensive impact player to their current rosters.
Silver flatly admitted that he didn’t know how the cap would impact player movement in free agency.
“[The rising salary cap] is not something that we modeled for,” Silver said. “The intention wasn’t that in this system that teams could sign that many max player contracts and that many All-Stars [without going above the tax]. So if you ask me from a league standpoint, we would prefer that our All-Stars be distributed around the league rather than having so many All-Stars in one market. But we’ll see what happens this summer. … There will be unintended consequences from all this additional cap room this summer, I just don’t know what those consequences will be.”
Temperatures in Toronto hit -2 degrees ºF on Saturday night, prompting some complaints from media members who noted that the NBA has now held its All-Star Weekend in cold weather for the second straight year after spending 2015 All-Star Weekend in New York City.
Silver attempted to deflect the complaints with a nod towards history.
“Yes, it’s a bit cold here, but I’ve been reading up on Dr. James Naismith, who was born in this very province of Ontario,” Silver said. “When he founded this game 125 years ago, it was because he thought there was an activity needed to keep young boys, young men active on these very cold winter days. And of course, he planned it as an indoor activity. So when I keep hearing about how cold it is, I keep reminding people that’s true, but our events are inside, so no big deal and we’re all enjoying it here.
When a reporter pressed Silver on whether the 2018 All-Star Game would be held in warmer environs, the commissioner replied, jokingly: “We love it here in Toronto. The game is indoors. Stop complaining.”
Silver opened his press conference with condolences to Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, whose wife Ingrid died earlier this week from injuries suffered in a car crash at the age of 44.
“I would just say the entire NBA family is in grieving for the Williams family,” Silver said. “Monty [is] a beloved figure throughout the league, and I know as I’ve traveled around the league over the last several days, it’s something on the mind of a lot of coaches and players. … I just wanted to begin by expressing our deepest condolences to Monty and his children. I know this is going to be a tough time for you and your family, but you have enormous support throughout the league.”