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  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Wednesday some significant NBA rule changes for the 2017-18 season.
By Ben Golliver
July 12, 2017

LAS VEGAS – Thanks to the NBA and NBPA’s early agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement back in December, the league’s Board of Governors focused their energies this summer on gameplay tweaks rather whether there would be games to play.

The Competition Committee’s major goal—to smooth out the flow of games—was an extension of previous efforts aimed at increasing the watchability of the televised product. NBA commissioner Adam Silver noted Wednesday that past initiatives, including a modernized replay system that includes an off-site review center, have reduced the average game length to 2 hours and 15 minutes, down from 2 hours and 23 minutes. The next steps: reducing the total number of timeouts, shortening the length of timeouts, tightening up the halftime break, and restricting how many timeouts can be called in late-game situations.

“We were more focused on the pace and flow of the game, and what we heard from our fans and many of our teams was that the end of games, in particular, were too choppy. These new changes will have a significant impact, especially on the end of games. Overall, we’ve gone from 18 to 14 timeouts. We’ve reduced the amounts of timeouts by four in the last two minutes.” 

These new measures weren’t necessarily aimed at cutting down the total length of the game; a league spokesman told SI.com that there is no stated goal or target length, and reiterated Silver’s statement that the changes were “all about flow.”

Per the NBA, here are the modified timeout rules, set to go into effect for next season.

• Each team will have seven timeouts per game, with no restrictions per half.

• All team timeouts will be 75 seconds.  In the previous format, “full” timeouts were 90 seconds and “20-second” timeouts were 60 seconds.  Both “full” and “20-second” timeouts have been replaced by team timeouts.

• All four periods will have two mandatory timeouts, which will take place after the first stoppage under the seven- and three-minute marks.

• The under-nine-minute mandatory timeouts in the second and fourth periods will be eliminated.

• Each team can enter the fourth period with up to four team timeouts. 

• Each team will be limited to two team timeouts after the later of (i) the three-minute mark of the fourth period or (ii) the resumption of play after the second mandatory timeout of the fourth period. 

• Each team will have two team timeouts per overtime period; previously teams had three. 

• Referees will assess a delay-of-game violation if a free throw shooter ventures beyond the three-point line between attempts. 

• Halftime will last 15 minutes for all games, beginning immediately upon expiration of the second period.  A delay-of-game penalty will be issued if a team is not ready to start play at the expiration of the halftime clock. 

The new changes represent a win from the viewer’s perspective. Who, besides NBA coaches and out-of-shape players, will complain about fewer timeouts and shorter timeouts? Killing the under-nine-minute timeouts in the second and fourth quarters is a notable highlight, given that those breaks almost invariably felt abrupt following so quickly on the heels of the quarter stoppages. That was especially true in the fourth quarter, when the upcoming stretch was bound to slow down anyway. The new mandatory timeouts - under-seven and under-three – are spaced naturally and slightly back-loaded so that early-quarter action can unfold.

Tweaking the end-of-game timeout setup is a long-requested move from both diehards and casual fans alike. “Since I was a kid, that’s an issue people have been talking about,” Silver acknowledged. Under the old setup, each team had three timeouts in the last two minutes. Under the new rules, teams get two timeouts in the last three minutes.

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The new framework should help cut down on the true annoyances -- like when a team calls back-to-back timeouts or when teams trade timeouts during a single inbounds play -- and lead to a smoother feel rather the staggered chess match that often develops down the stretch.

If there’s a downside to the new framework, it’s the elimination of the 20-second time out, which has crossed over as a cultural signal. Who among us in our daily lives hasn’t tapped the top of our shoulder to signal the need for a short break?

Mark Sobhani/Getty

That said, the 20-second timeout” as a basketball instrument and time-keeping measure was one of the world’s biggest crocks, and this move has saved generations of parents from needing to explain to their children why 20-second timeouts never even came close to being 20-seconds long.  

The move to “even out halftime, Silver said, was prompted by coaches who wanted greater consistency for their players. In particular, certain halftime ceremonies – like jersey retirements and other special events – often extended way past the allotted time, throwing off player routines.

Trade deadline moved up

Who could forget when the Kings and Pelicans completed the blockbuster trade of DeMarcus Cousins during the 2017 All-Star Game? Who could forget Cousins’ incredulous face as he faced a swarm of reporters asking about the deal immediately following the game? For better or worse, the NBA has now legislated that craziness out of the game.

Starting next season, the trade deadline will be moved up in February from the Thursday after the All-Star Game to the Thursday 10 days prior to Sunday’s All-Star Game. This year, the All-Star Game was Feb. 19 and the trade deadline was Feb. 23. In 2018, the All-Star Game will be on Feb. 18 in Los Angeles and the trade deadline will be Feb. 8.

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Silver said that moving up the trade deadline had been discussed “for several years,” and that the 2017-18 season was a logical time to implement the change because the start of the season is being moved up a week, from Oct. 25 last year to Oct. 17, in hopes of reducing back-to-backs. He also noted that the primary motivation was facilitating the acclimation of players to their new teams.

“[There was] the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the All-Star break,” Silver said. “That the All-Star break would have been an opportunity for the player to move himself, his family, get his family readjusted and get readjusted to the new team when they have that four- or five-day period to do that.”

The calendar switch will free up All-Star Weekend to live on its own, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on one’s perspective. Players won’t get hit with constant trade questions, they won’t get stuck in the middle of a major storm like Cousins, and they – along with fans and reporters -- can focus on the actual events.

But the All-Star Game has been growing progressively less competitive in recent years, the Slam Dunk Contest can be hit or miss, the Three-Point Contest isn’t a crazy needle-mover even when it’s been loaded with A-list superstars like Stephen Curry, and none of the supporting events has really broken through.

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Instead of enjoying a solid week of intense buzz that stretches over All-Star Weekend, through the post-ASW break and on to the deadline, there could be a burst of interest earlier in the month around the deadline and then a flatter All-Star Weekend followed by a completely dead break period that leads straight into the March dregs of the schedule. Let’s all hope that the race for playoff seeds in the loaded Western Conference can help make up for the shift.

Effective with the 2017-18 season, the maximum number of timeouts per game will decrease from 18 to 14.  In addition, during the last three minutes of a game, teams will be limited to two team timeouts each instead of the previous rule that allowed three per team in the last two minutes. 

“These changes will help us fulfill our goal of improving game flow and pace of play,” said Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations.  “Fewer stoppages and less time without action, especially at the end of a game, will further enhance the viewing experience for our fans.”         

The rule modifications for timeouts are below:

• Each team will have seven timeouts per game, with no restrictions per half. 

• All team timeouts will be 75 seconds.  In the previous format, “full” timeouts were 90 seconds and “20-second” timeouts were 60 seconds.  Both “full” and “20-second” timeouts have been replaced by team timeouts.

• All four periods will have two mandatory timeouts, which will take place after the first stoppage under the seven- and three-minute marks.

• The under-nine-minute mandatory timeouts in the second and fourth periods will be eliminated.

• Each team can enter the fourth period with up to four team timeouts.

• Each team will be limited to two team timeouts after the later of (i) the three-minute mark of the fourth period or (ii) the resumption of play after the second mandatory timeout of the fourth period.

• Each team will have two team timeouts per overtime period; previously teams had three.

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The NBA also made the following changes regarding game flow:

• Referees will assess a delay-of-game violation if a free throw shooter ventures beyond the three-point line between attempts. 

• Halftime will last 15 minutes for all games, beginning immediately upon expiration of the second period.  A delay-of-game penalty will be issued if a team is not ready to start play at the expiration of the halftime clock.  

In addition, the Board of Governors approved moving the trade deadline from the Thursday after the NBA All-Star Game to the Thursday 10 days before the All-Star Game.  With the new placement of the trade deadline, teams will be able to settle their rosters before the All-Star break and avoid the disruptions that result from players joining new teams just as practices and games are beginning to resume following the All-Star break.

The NBA’s Competition Committee unanimously recommended the rules changes before the Board of Governors’ vote.

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