When the NBA instituted its penalties for flopping this fall, there was widespread hope that they would help curb what has been seen by many as a major problem. The results have been mixed, with the league acknowledging certain obvious violations but generally not enforcing the letter of the law or issuing enough fines to make players change their behavior. In general, it's been more successful as a public relations strategy than as an honest attempt to stop the flops.
In recent years, outcry over flopping has reached its heights during the postseason, which means the next few weeks will give us a sense of just how invested the NBA is in showing fans that they care about the issue. On Thursday, the league announced its adjusted flopping penalties for the playoffs:
The NBA's anti-flopping rule, adopted at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, had 24 violations during the 2012-13 regular season. Fourteen players received warnings while five players received a $5,000 fine for violating the anti-flopping rule twice.
Physical acts that constitute legitimate basketball plays (such as moving to a spot in order to draw an offensive foul) and minor physical reactions to contact are not deemed to be flops.
Any player who is determined to have committed a flop during the 2013 Playoffs will be subject to the following:
Violation 1: $5,000 fine
Violation 2: $10,000 fine
Violation 3: $15,000 fine
Violation 4: $30,000 fine
If a player violates the anti-flopping rule five times or more, he will be subject to discipline that is reasonable under the circumstances, including an increased fine and/or suspension.
With fewer games, it makes sense that fines would be steeper and require no warning. However, unless the NBA seriously changes its enforcement, these penalties probably won't matter at all. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop breaks down the problem:
Whether or not such a program is effective depends entirely on how active the league is in noticing and punishing flops. In the regular season they spotted one flop for every 51 games played. (That's one for roughly every 25,000 minutes of player time on the court.) At that rate, the whole playoffs will feature a grand total of two flops. In other words, the entire anti-flopping effort would amount to a couple of $5,000 holes in a couple of guys' wallets -- but no real need for any flopper to change strategy. [...]
And finally, I'm not a fan of any of these NBA rules (for instance, with technical totals) that accumulate through the playoffs. The risk of a five-flops-in-the-playoffs suspension is effectively zero for every NBA player -- except maybe those on very top contending teams that expect to play a couple dozen games. If you play for the Thunder, Spurs or Heat, in other words, you're facing anti-flopping, anti-technical and anti-flagrant pressure no other team has. It also means that if anyone is to get suspended, it's most likely in the Finals, when fans would most appreciate having them on the court.
It's possible that the NBA will fine more players, if only because the greater importance of the playoffs ensures that more people will notice and complain about flopping. Yet, if that does happen, it will only make it clearer that the league is more concerned with seeming to care about flopping than in actually crafting a coherent plan to stop it. It's a toothless method of enforcement if it changes dramatically between the regular season and the postseason.
Frankly, I don't think the NBA should take great pains to stop flopping, because I see rampant stoppages in play and high-profile suspensions to be worse for the fans' basketball experience, particularly during the postseason. However, if the NBA is going to try to do something about it, a half-formed PR move is unlikely to reap meaningful awards. If fans desire change, paying lip service to their concerns isn't a valid response.