Two days after its owners discussed the matter during All-Star weekend meetings in Toronto, the NBA sent out a memo providing a variation on a theme: Don’t hitch a piggyback ride or you can be whistled for a flagrant foul.
All 30 teams and game officials were informed so if players now do what J.J. Redick, Nerlens Noel and others have done by jumping on the backs of big men Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond — to name two — so they would be forced to shoot free throws, they risk a greater penalty.
It’s the latest manifestation of the Hack-a-Shaq, a strategy NBA coaches have used for so long it’s named after long-retired Shaquille O’Neal. Coaches now are using it with increasing frequency against opposing players who are notoriously bad free-throw shooters, either to get their team back in the game or to preserve a lead.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls jumping on opponents a “dangerous move” that threatens players’ safety, hence Tuesday’s memo.
Once a self-admitted fence sitter on the bigger issue, Silver now says a rule change is needed to speed up games.
Silver said data shows the tactic of fouling poor shooters away from the ball is being used 5½ times more often this season than a year ago, and he is listening to fans, corporate sponsors and television partners distracted by watching players such as Howard, Drummond and DeAndre Jordan so often do what they do worst. Or they don’t play at all during a game’s crucial moments because they’re such a liability.
“I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver told reporters at an All-Star news conference.
Trouble is, the NBA’s Competition Committee has been studying the issue since last season’s end, and there’s no consensus what the new rule should be.
NBA bylaws require at least 20 of 30 teams approve a rule change Silver said wouldn’t be voted upon until July at the earliest, if a solution can be determined.
“It’s easy to say I hate the strategy,” Silver said, “but it’s a much more difficult issue to decide exactly what the new rule should be.”
Call Timberwolves interim coach Sam Mitchell old school: He thinks the game should stay as it is. It’s the targeted players who need to change.
In January, Drummond set an NBA record by missing 23 free throws in a game at Houston. He shot 36, made just 13 and yet his Pistons still won.
“I understand what everybody is saying, how it looks,” Mitchell said. “But I couldn’t dribble with my left hand. So are you going to make a rule saying you can’t make me go left? It was my responsibility as a professional to learn how to dribble left or you don’t play in certain situations. I think this should be the same thing.”
Mitchell has used the strategy selectively at times this season. He calls it a matter of simple mathematics.
“We’re talking about making free throws and this is the thing: You don’t have to be 80 percent,” Mitchell said. “If you’re shooting ’em at 51 percent, people will stop fouling because if you make one of every two they’re getting a point on every possession.”
Toronto coach Dwane Casey agrees with Silver about the “dangerous” nature of jumping on an opponent’s back. He also agrees with Mitchell’s opinion about a player’s responsibility.
He also doesn’t pretend to know what the new rule should be.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Casey said. “I’m going to use the rules that are available. If it’s in the rule book, I’m going to use it if it gives us a chance to win. I think it’s ugly for the game. … If they change the rules, we’ll adjust to it. We’ll find other ways to get an edge.”
NBA SHORT TAKES
On and on …
Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine had a special jersey made up just in time to commemorate back-to-back All-Star slam dunk contest victories: He turned his No. 8 uniform onto its side, transforming it into an infinity symbol and substituting his surname for “Flip” to remember former coach Flip Saunders. He’s going to sign it and present it to the Saunders family.
“I just thought it was the right time to do that,” said LaVine, who posted a photo of the slam dunk trophy and the jersey on Instagram. “Infinity, it pretty much goes on forever so it means his memory will go on forever. I thought it was something that was very special.”
Pistons make moves
Thursday’s trade deadline came and went without a true star being dealt, but there still looked to be a winner: Detroit.
Fighting for the East’s final playoff spot, the Pistons strengthened their rotation by adding forwards Tobias Harris, Donatas Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton and sent away a protected first-round pick.
TNT analyst Kenny Smith called Detroit “the quiet assassin” after its deadline moves: “They have put themselves in position to possibly contend for the top two or three spots.”
Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns went home to New Jersey for a few days after last weekend’s All-Star festivities in Toronto, and he took his Skills Challenge trophy with him.
His father, Karl Sr., took it from there, inviting the trophy to dinner on a long formal dining table the family seldom uses.
“He put it on top of the table, sat down with the trophy and ate with it,” Towns said. “It was like it was his date. He was so proud.”
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Boston
Wednesday: 6:30 p.m. at Toronto
Saturday: 6 p.m. at New Orleans
All games on FSN
Player to watch:
Isaiah Thomas, Celtics
Once the last player taken in the NBA draft (2011), he’s now an All-Star and the Celtics’ pulse and leading scorer, with a 21.6 point average.
“I don’t know, maybe the sand was too hard.”
— Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton, when asked how rookie Nemanja Bjelica hurt his foot working out in San Diego during the All-Star break.