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NBA cuts down on timeouts to speed up and improve flow of its games

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discussed why the NBA made changes to speed up and improve the flow of its games. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)
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LAS VEGAS – For as long as anyone can remember, people have complained about the way the final few minutes of NBA games grind to a halt, straining under the weight of a seemingly endless series of timeouts and stoppages.

On Wednesday, the NBA acknowledged those complaints and attempted to do something about them, as the league’s Board of Governors unanimously approved several rule changes – including reducing timeouts and changing mandatory stoppage times – in attempt to improve both the final few minutes of games and the flow of play throughout all 48 minutes.

Those changes, which were recommended by the league’s competition committee, include: cutting the maximum number of timeouts from 18 to 14; making the mandatory television timeouts after the seven- and three-minute marks of each quarter; allowing each team to take two timeouts in the final three minutes instead of three in two; and dropping from three timeouts to two for each team in overtime.

“I would say, in this case, we’re pretty happy with the length of our game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday at his annual news conference at the conclusion of the league’s meetings here. “We were more focused here on the pace and flow of the game. What we heard from our fans and heard from many of our teams was that the end of the games in particular were too choppy.

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“I think since I was a kid, that’s an issue people have been talking about, the last two minutes of our game. . . . We think these new changes will have a significant impact, especially at the end of the game.”

In addition to those moves, the NBA made two others – assessing a delay-of-game penalty for players who go past the three-point line in between shooting free throws, as well as holding teams to a strict 15-minute time limit for halftime – designed to improve game flow throughout the game.

The league also eliminated the “20-second” timeout from the league’s lexicon. While 20-second timeouts were actually 60-second timeouts previously, and full timeouts were 90 seconds, now all timeouts will be called “team timeouts” and will be 75 seconds long.

The goal of all of these moves is to try and streamline the game from start to finish, all while allowing the league’s television partners to continue to make as much money as they can from commercial breaks.

“I think these things help the competition of the game, will help us from a fan standpoint in terms of the flow, and also satisfies our network partners,” Silver said.

Beyond the tweaks to the in-game experience, the biggest decision the league made on Wednesday was to change the timing of the trade deadline. In the past, it would always come the Thursday following the All-Star Game, turning All-Star Weekend – and the congregation of virtually everyone there – into a rumor-filled few days.

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But after this year’s game was completely overshadowed by the trade of center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans, a deal that went down as the game was being played, the NBA decided to change the deadline to the Thursday 10 days before the All-Star Game beginning this coming season.

That makes the 2018 trade deadline at 3 p.m. Feb. 8.

“The motivation for moving the trade deadline before All-Star [Weekend] was the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the all-star break, 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,” Silver said.

“So it was really no magic to it. It was something we’ve discussed for several years. The thinking was, remember, we’re adding an extra week to the season this year, same number of games, to help space out the travel.”

Changing the trade deadline did leave open one potential issue: what would happen if a player is selected for the all-star team in one conference, and then traded to the other? Silver said the league discussed potentially implementing a rule for that, but decided instead to approach each situation on a case-by-case basis.

“It hasn’t happened very often,” Silver said. “Remember, even though the trade deadline was after All-Star, obviously players had gotten traded before the trade deadline, so it’s something that has come up before. And again, we’ll deal with it when it happens.”

Silver also said that, with the league moving up its start date by a little more than a week to allow for a longer window to complete the 82-game regular season and cut down on back-to-back games, the NBA season will begin Oct. 17.

And while there was no resolution on the issue of the NBA’s age limit, Silver again reiterated that the current situation – having players spend one year in college or in another pro league after playing in high school, and then being eligible for the NBA draft – isn’t working.

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“In terms of ‘one-and-done,’ as I’ve said fairly recently, it is something that we’re taking a fresh look at,” Silver said. As I’ve said, I don’t believe the system is working well for anyone, and most importantly from a developmental standpoint for the league, the question is when players come into our league at 19, have they gotten the best possible training to be equipped for NBA basketball?

“Now, I think one of the things we want to talk to the NCAA about is historically we’ve stayed away from some of those younger players because we didn’t want to impact NCAA eligibility, but I think we need to really take a complete holistic look at this.”