An NBA officiating crew huddled with Timberwolves players and staff last week in Toronto in an annual briefing about the upcoming season’s new rules and points of emphasis.
The list includes, of course, the eternal promise to buckle down on traveling as well as intentions to expose illegal screens, protect shooters and speed up the game, among many other issues.
Referees have been instructed this preseason to call delay-of-game penalties every time a scoring team touches the ball after it drops through the basket, which slows the opponent from quickly inbounding the ball and attacking at the other end. The emphasis already has produced a flurry of whistles around the league, even if the player from the scoring team simply hands the ball to an official or sets it down.
In the Wolves’ preseason loss to Toronto on Saturday at Target Center, referees called the transgression five times, four times against the Raptors that resulted in an initial warning and three subsequent technical fouls that sent the home team to the free-throw line and … and yes, further slowed a game in which 60 personal fouls also were called.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman, in his typically droll manner, thought this was a good thing, at least for one night after which he scolded his players for their lack of concentration and desire.
“The way we were playing, that’s the only way we could score,” he said. “So I enjoyed it.”
The NBA says players disrupted the flow of playoff games last spring 214 times by touching the ball after a made basket, and the league and its referees vow starting this preseason to tidy up that part of the game.
“It got out of hand,” Adelman said. “There were guys grabbing balls and throwing it to an official. It was pretty much 40 times a game the ball was given back to the official. I think [stricter enforcement] is a good thing. You touch the ball, they’re not letting the offensive team get the ball and a lot of things can be established if you do that: Teams get back easier on defense, a lot of things can happen.
“I think it’s just instinctive to grab it, but players are going to pick that up pretty quick. Once players figure that out — you touch it and it’s going to be a technical — they’ll stop doing it.”
Three years ago, NBA officials made their point during the preseason about a “respect for the game” rule intended to curb players’ whining about foul calls. Technical fouls flew furiously during the preseason and early during the 2010-11 season.
Now, even though it remains on the league’s list of emphasis, it’s barely an issue.
“There’s something every year,” Wolves guard A.J. Price said. “As the year goes on, guys adjust and it tends to calm down and sometimes I think the officials just get sick of calling it. Stopping games [for a technical-foul free throw] for a delay-of-game rule doesn’t seem to make much sense right now, but hopefully guys will catch on as the year goes on: Just leave the ball alone because a lot of times it does affect offensive teams that like to run, that like to get the ball out of the net quick.
“It is instinct just to grab it, but a lot of times guys do it purposely sometimes just to slow the game up, and then after a while it becomes habitual. But guys are smart: They hear enough whistles, they’ll figure it out.”
• Kevin Martin came through his second consecutive practice healthy and moving fine, Adelman said Wednesday. Martin missed essentially three preseason games last week because of an Achilles’ tendon that he said Tuesday remains sore. “I don’t see any problems,” Adelman said. “I think he knows what he can and he can’t do.”
• Adelman said the team won’t trim its 18-man camp roster until after Sunday’s game in Montreal. He made it clear Wednesday he and Flip Saunders are searching for another wing player. Free agents available include Rip Hamilton, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Marquis Daniels, Josh Howard, Stephen Jackson, Mickael Pietrus, DeShawn Stevenson and Daequan Cook, or they could pursue a trade.