The NBA is close to implementing four changes -- a couple minor, a couple significant -- that it hopes will improve the quality of offensive play and stem the nine-year decline in scoring that reached a decade low of 91.6 points on the average in this lockout shortened, 50-game season.
After a six-hour meeting today, the NBA's 16-member special committee that includes current and former players and coaches agreed to recommend to the NBA's 29-member Board of Governors approval of the following suggestions:
A five-second rule. A player would have to pass, shoot or drive to the basket within five seconds of taking possession of the ball below the foul line. The change is designed to stop players, such as Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal, from getting the ball and backing toward the basket while the other players on the court stand and watch, according to NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik.
A 14-second shot-clock rule. If a team has the ball in the front court and an infraction occurs, such as a kicked ball, the shot clock will not be reset to its full 24 seconds. Play will resume with the existing amount of time on the shot clock in most situations. If there are fewer than 14 seconds on the shot clock, it will be re-set to 14 seconds.
Officiating. Officials must be more aggressive and consistent in enforcing current and new rules regarding contact, mostly in regards to impeding the progress of offensive players cutting through the lane. New rules also would prevent a defender from placing his forearm on a ballhandler on the perimeter as the ballhandler is backing toward the basket.
Illegal defense guidelines. These have yet to be defined, Granik said, but what has been discussed are rules that force a defender to stay closer to his man away from the ball, which will increase space for offensive players to maneuver to the basket.
"Scoring is not the one and only issue," Granik said. "If we come out of this with a game that looks a lot better but the scores are about where they are now, I don't think anyone in our committee would think that was a failure. It wasn't a mandate just to increase scoring."
The committee almost unanimously shot down the idea of expanding the lane to the international basketball-style trapezoid; moving the three-point arc; allowing teams to play zone defenses; and adding or subtracting time to the existing 24-second shot clock.
The special committee will finalize the specifics of its proposed changes within the next three weeks, Granik said, then forward them to the Board of Governors. Should some or all of the suggestions be approved, the changes will be implemented in the NBA's summer league in Atlanta.
If the changes work as discussed, the rules would be implemented in the NBA for play next season.
"If something turns out in the preseason to be a big mistake and we didn't catch it in the summer, the committee and the Board of Governors would always reserve the right to change that," Granik said.
Granik admitted that the onus in making the rules work will fall on on-court officials. Ed T. Rush, the NBA's director of officials, took part in the special committee meeting but he did not have a vote.
"I think the NBA referees will officiate the way they're instructed to," Granik said.
Wizards Coach Gar Heard said today that he did not feel any drastic changes needed to be made and that the consistent enforcement of the current rules by officials would eliminate some of the physical play that has evolved in recent years.
"Every time I've noticed that changes have been made to increase scoring things have worked the opposite way," Heard said. "If they left things pretty much like they are and enforce them, that would change things. I do like that five-second rule they're talking about, though."
He is not alone.
"The one thing I would like to see eliminated is one guy taking it, dribbling it and backing," New York Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "To me, you don't go to basketball camps as a kid and learn the back-in move. I think it's more about that there are already good rules in effect. It's just how they want to enforce them, interpret them and call them."