New rules, but there's disorder

Ball in players' court to adjust to changes

Nba Season Preview

October 29, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NBA doesn't stand for No Bodyslams Allowed. Nor does it mean the National Brooding Association. But give those in power some time and they might come up with something new, something different, something to freshen up a sport that seemed to be searching for a plastic surgeon last spring.

How else do you explain some of the rule changes that have been implemented for the 2001-02 season, which begins this week?

Allow Shaquille O'Neal the opportunity to try.

"I think they need to stop calling everything and let us do what we need to do while people eat popcorn and enjoy the game," the Los Angeles Lakers center said during the summer. "A bunch of old people upstairs need to retire and hire young people if they want to make the game better."

Wait, Shaq's not finished.

"Let guys like Allen Iverson carry their team," he said. "Let Steve Nash travel a little bit when he makes that Canadian pass that he makes so well. [The rule changes are] not going to make the game any better, [they're] going to make it worse. ... People don't want to see a bunch of lazy guys playing zone defense."

Permitting zone defenses might be the most recognizable of the new rules being enforced, but it might not have the biggest impact on how the game is played. Teams will have to get the ball across midcourt in eight seconds, not 10, and a defensive three-second call will force players such as O'Neal to guard his man in the paint and not stand near the basket blocking shots. Hand-checking, not body-slamming, is legal as long as it doesn't impede a player's progress.

Admittedly, the new rules have everybody a little flustered.

"Right now I don't know how the rules are going to be interpreted," Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown said. "We had the NBA referees come in and talk to us and I don't even think they're clear on their guidelines. If they call the way they expressed it to us, it's going to be more difficult to have good man-to-man principles."

Stu Jackson, who as the league's senior vice president of basketball operations was instrumental in getting the new rules passed last spring, believes there will be a period of adjustment before coaches, players and referees find a comfort zone in which they all can be happy.

How long that transition takes is up for debate.

But Jackson, a former coach of the New York Knicks and president of the Vancouver Grizzlies, contends that there won't be a "dramatic impact" in the number of points scored every night. Scoring might have been down last year, but not as much as it was during the 1998-99 season when only one team averaged more than 100 points.

"I think there will be more ball movement and more players involved in the offense," Jackson said. "I think the game will have a better flow than before. We don't want the rules to have an adverse effect."

That is what some players believe will happen. Take away Iverson's ability to freeze a defense with his crossover by double-teaming him, and eventually the league's most exciting player - and reigning Most Valuable Player - might not be as effective from the outside.

If teams are suddenly allowed to hand-check Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter, it might slow him down enough to where he can't launch into one of his breathtaking dunks. "I still can't get used to going out there and seeing guys play zone defense," Carter said. "I'm not sure what the league was thinking. I would have left things the way they were."

Detroit Pistons forward Jerry Stackhouse, an All-Star whose game is also built around his slashing moves to the basket, isn't sure what to make of the changes. He hasn't seen a lot of teams playing zone during the preseason, but that could change once the regular season begins.

"I don't think it's going to change the way I play," Stackhouse said, "but it might if teams start double-teaming me or playing a lot of zone."

Coaches contend that the new eight-second count will help deter teams from playing zone, given that they won't have time to set one up. They don't think the new incidental contact rule, which allows some hand-checking that were called fouls during the past three years, will change the way teams play.

The defensive three-second rule will likely have the biggest impact, particularly with the way certain teams play.

Take the San Antonio Spurs, who used the defensive tandem of Tim Duncan and David Robinson very effectively in winning the NBA championship three seasons ago. Or the Lakers, who have won back-to-back titles the past two years largely because of the way O'Neal can roam the lane.

Some might think that the 76ers, with Dikembe Mutombo, might sit back in zones and force teams to beat them from the outside, but Brown isn't comfortable with the notion of gimmick defenses. "I don't want to play zone," Brown said. "I don't want to teach something I'm not good at."

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