January 26, 2011
Where did all the technicals go?
Yes, technical fouls are up from this time last season. Way up, according to the Los Angeles Times, which has a level of T-ness pegged up at a 34 percent increase from 2009-10. But the number of technicals called has been falling consistently since the season's first month. And, ardent viewers, I don't think the players have gotten any less demonstrative, have you?
More telling ... literally, where did all the technicals go?
Because, as the Times points out, heaps of the bad boys have been rescinded this season. A 300 percent increase on the amount of technicals that were called and later rescinded by the league office when compared to last season, numbers that have helped to shine a lot on one of the more ridiculous aspects of one of the more ridiculous seasons in this league's history -- the quick whistle, followed by everyone on the court and at home realizing that the technical foul will be taken away after a sober review within the next day or two.
If anything, that knowledge takes away from the stature and gravitas the NBA was desperately hoping to hand back to the referees. But in enforcing these heavy-handed technical rules to start the season, the NBA made the younger referees (especially) look like overactive and sensitive drones, quick to a whistle but late to understand why. And everyone looks silly in the process. Everyone.
"I think the referees were told if there's a question, just give a technical out and we'll settle it down back here" in New York, said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, referring to apparent directives from NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Twenty-seven players have had technical fouls rescinded, including some of the bigger names in the league.
While this unofficial whistle-first/review-later policy might seem like the safest way to go, it's not helping the game.
It discredits real, earned, technical fouls. It's clear that it isn't disabusing these players out of the notion of freaking out over a call gone wrong, and as a fan, it slows the game down and adds points to the other team's ledger that they may not deserve. You can nullify a technical foul in New York a few days after the game in Memphis, but you can't redo a one-possession game that was made into a two-possession game by influence of that one point.
Worse, the cynic in all of us will then take to the NBA's latest poll-driven non-controversy that it tends to trot out every November, and easily dismiss whatever the new focus is next November. From hand-checking to traveling calls to dress codes and new types of basketballs, these "issues" tend to slip away by the new year, but not before some games have gone batty as a result. And there's no need for it.
The NBA keeps trying to enforce something that won't be possible even with uniform expectations, 30,000 cameras, nights spent reviewing things gone wrong, and a note-perfect refereeing staff. This game will never be called correctly, because so many of the calls have nothing to do with stepping on an out-of-bounds line or failing to inbound the ball within five seconds.
And the more uniform the NBA tries to get with these things, the more the players will react, because this game will never be made uniform.
This is why players decline to block shots these days, preferring instead to run up underneath a player in mid-air as he lopes toward the basket. Why wouldn't he? He's learned that he'll get that charge call every time. No use in trying to reject the shot. No use in trying to play actual basketball. As a result, the style of play the NBA reverts to in the paint, defensively, would be laughed off the playground or out of the rec center. And James Worthy would have averaged 16 charges per game in today's NBA.
Don't blame the players for this, because they're just doing what they can to help their teams win. They know they can get a cheap call out of a flop on either side of the ball, and that the referees have been told to whistle every whiff of contact, just in case there was some legitimate contact. Better whistle it than miss it.
And don't blame the refs for it, either. They're screwing up, no doubt, but these screw-ups have been legitimized. The younger ones don't mind being yelled at by Russell Westbrook(notes) if it means their non-calls won't be reviewed to death, and they sustain more games and consistent income down the line.
Yes, blame the suits. I realize that's a cop-out, the easiest go-to move for any writer, but that's what the NBA gets for listening to polls that were aimed at winning over people who weren't going to watch this Sunday's Heat-Thunder game anyway.