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Ball Don't Lie

NBA will institute new baseline safety rules, which have been a long time coming

A fan reaches for Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) as he falls at the baseline in the second half of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 27, 2014
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A fan reaches for Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) as he falls at the baseline in the second half of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck)

Every NBA game involves players jumping with abandon at or near the baseline, either to save a ball falling out of bounds or make some sort of offensive or defensive play at the basket. Such moves often put these athletes in danger, because the league and its media partners station cameramen only a few feet from the edge of the court. These people have to do their jobs, of course, but their presence still endangers the 10 players (and arguably three referees) on the floor. It's certainly difficult to juggle the needs of media members and the safety of athletes. Nevertheless, striking that balance is often the difference between a major injury and a more basic hustle play.

After several years of questions — our Kelly Dwyer discussed the issue as long as three years ago and many times since — the NBA has decided to tip the scales further towards the side of player safety. On Tuesday, the league informed teams that they will increase the amount of open space along the baseline. From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:

The NBA is expanding the area that must be clear behind the basket and cutting the number of photographers along the baseline in an effort to improve player safety.
The new regulations, calling for an extra foot of open space on both sides of the basket stanchion, were sent to teams Tuesday by league president of operations Rod Thorn and executive vice president of team marketing and business operations Amy Brooks in a memo that was obtained by The Associated Press.
Thorn says clearing the congestion behind the playing area was planned even before Indiana's Paul George broke his right leg when he crashed into the stanchion last month during a USA Basketball exhibition game.
''The conversations about this topic preceded Paul's injury by several years,'' Thorn said. ''As a matter of fact, at our league meetings in July we informed our teams this was the direction we were going. But of course when an injury occurs like the one to Paul, it reaffirms the changes we have made and the need to continue to evaluate our policies.''

More specifically, the escape lanes on either side of the basket stanchion will be increased from three to four feet in width. The league will also limit the number of photographers along the baseline to 10 each (or 20 in total), which is slightly fewer than the the previous total of 24 and way under the 40 present during the 2010-11 regular season (the final season before the 2011 lockout, incidentally). The changes are not so major as to constitute a total shift in the NBA's approach to player safety, but they will help. An extra foot of space only seems minor until it helps a player avoid an injury that sidelines him for months.

The league experimented with some of these changes during last spring's postseason, so there's no reason to think that Paul George's gruesome injury forced their hand in bringing about these changes. However, it's undoubtedly true that George's bad luck has made the issue a little more prominent, turning a common complaint of basketball diehards into a story with broader interest. In other words, this is a logical and well-warranted decision that also happens to function as a strong public relations move.

It's unclear exactly how effective these changes will be, but it's nice that the league has paid some attention to an issue that was never going to go away as long as NBA teams employ extremely athletic athletes who jump around the basket. To a certain extent, falling into the baseline area is an occupational hazard in high-level basketball. But that doesn't mean that the powers that be can't make changes to ensure these players fall into more welcoming areas. There may still be horrible injuries along the baseline. At least the league is trying to minimize the chances that they occur.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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