Washington Wizards guard Mitch Richmond envisions himself lighting up defenders who no longer can impede his progress to the basket because of rule changes the NBA recently implemented. He also knows that after he scores, he will be faced with the same handicap on defense.
Guarding lightning-quick players such as Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson used to be somewhat easier when defenders could place a forearm on his back to slow him, Richmond said. Now Richmond is just hoping he isn't on the bad end of too many highlight tapes.
"It's going to help guys on offense," Richmond said. "On defense? Man."
On the Wizards' first day of training camp under new coach Gar Heard, players had to wrestle with not being able to wrestle.
After years of being coached to physically defend their opponents by pushing, grabbing and clutching, players are going to have to defend the old-fashioned way--by moving their feet.
"I don't think it takes away from [the Wizards] that much because I don't think this is a physical team like New York or Miami," Heard said. "I was always taught that to play defense you've got to move your feet first anyway. You couldn't grab and hold when I played. We're just going to have to stress team defense."
Based on recommendations from a 16-member committee that included former players, coaches, media members and officials, the NBA implemented four rule changes in an attempt to increase scoring and offensive flow.
The most drastic change, players said, is the elimination of contact on the ballhandler. Players also said they did not care for the five-second rule, under which a player with the ball has five seconds to shoot or pass once he steps below the foul line on the offensive side of the court.
Players said those two changes could have the reverse effect of what league officials intend. Players said that the flow of games will be disrupted because more infractions will be called, at least early in the season. That could cause longer games, which was the case during summer league games in which the NBA experimented with the rule changes.
While most of those interviewed agreed with Heard that the Wizards will not be drastically affected as a whole, they would have rather seen better enforcement of the previous rules rather than changes that they say make defending far too difficult.
"It plays into everybody's game offensively but defensively, especially at my position, especially with all the quick guards, it's going to be tough," point guard Rod Strickland said. "It was hard before. Now, without being able to use the forearm to slow guys down, it's not going to be easy.
"If they wanted to change the game, change the philosophies of the coaches. Sacramento scored 100 points a game with the forearm and the grabbing and clutching. I just think it's the way coaches are coaching, like in New York and Miami with the bump-and-grind game."
To counter the probable offensive advantages players will have in one-on-one situations, Heard is stressing team defense.
If the man guarding the ballhandler gets beaten, his teammates will have to rotate and help instead of granting the ballhandler an open lane to the basket, Heard said.
"You have to depend on your help to be there," Heard said. "If one guy gets beat, all five guys get beat."
Said center Ike Austin: "If you see a guy driving past your teammate's man, you've got to get in position to help. I'd rather take a guy out than let him just lay it up."
Forward Juwan Howard said he thinks the league enacted the five-second rule to highlight the NBA's younger stars.
"They saw Charles Barkley and Mark Jackson hanging on to the ball, backing in and that's who that rule applies to and that's wrong," Howard said. "Now you're taking those guys away from their strengths. Guys like Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson, you're adding to their strengths. There's Shaquille weighing 320-plus pounds, and they're telling us we can't touch him. Come on."
The new 14-second shot clock rule, under which the shot clock will be reset to 14 seconds instead of the full 24 seconds after a kicked ball or non-shooting foul, was not a point of controversy among the Wizards. Neither was the allowance of a hybrid zone defense in certain half-court situations.
Heard said he doesn't think he will have to take an inordinate amount of practice time to teach his players about the new rules. However, he said he might have to re-evaluate things after seeing how Washington's preseason games are officiated.
Players have seen a league-issued videotape concerning the new rules.
No referees will be at training camp to explain the changes because they are in the midst of their own training camp, where they are learning how to interpret the changes.
Wizards Note: Forward Lorenzo Williams, who likely will not participate in training camp while recovering from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, was guarded about his progress, even though Heard said he expects Williams to contribute this season.
"I can't look at it as a negative because things like this happen," said Williams, who has played in 33 games--none last season--over the past three seasons because of injuries. "I just want to get back to traveling with the team and being part of the team more than anything. The rest will come."