Posted Oct 23 2009 10:51PM
Getting the referees back took time. Now there's not much left to get them ready for the games that count. Only three days -- and no preseason games -- remain before the start of the regular season Tuesday night after Friday's ratification of a new labor agreement between the NBA and its officials.
The only break either side figures to get this weekend is a fastbreak version of Referees Training Camp 2009.
"We'll crank it out as hard as we can," said Ron Johnson, the league's senior vice president for referee operations.
Johnson and his staff will conduct all-day sessions with the 61 referees Saturday and Sunday in New York. The referees, 59 holdovers and two new officials, were already in the area after approving the new contract at a vote in New Jersey. Each workday begins at 11 a.m. and Johnson expects the meetings to last deep into the evening.
The first day will focus on basketball-related activities, including rules interpretations and the six points of emphasis for the upcoming season. Sunday's workload includes IT training, a review of instant replay and physical exams.
"This is what we would have done, but it is condensed," Johnson admitted.
Extensive testing, such as written exams, is also on the docket. General league administrative policies will be provided in the form of a reading packet, with the exception of the standard presentation on anti-gambling and ethics rules. Meetings are also scheduled for Monday morning before the four crews working Tuesday's games hit the road.
"It's very important that our referees leave this camp ready and we're comfortable that they have a level of knowledge that is superior," Johnson said. "And they all do because they live this stuff all the time."
Johnson, entering his second season with the league, is confident the referees will be up to snuff for the first tip despite not having worked the preseason. Opening night includes two high-profile games on TNT -- the Eastern Conference clash of the titans between the Cavaliers and Celtics, and the Lakers receiving their championship rings against the Clippers.
"We would have definitely wanted, just like any coach or any team would want their players, to be able to have a preseason to get the knots out or to get the feel and the rhythm and the flow back, but sometimes things happen," Johnson said. "Ideally we would definitely love to have the preseason to do that, but we don't and we've got to move on.
"It would be unfair for these guys to strike a deal -- they are our NBA referees -- and not get them back on the court because they are very good. That's what our fans want, that's what they teams want and we deserve to have the best referees back on the floor."
Getting the referees back alleviates several potential issues, Rockets forward Luis Scola said Friday night.
"If they didn't solve the problem, it would have been an adjustment, the refs to the league and the players to the refs," Scola said before the preseason finale against the Mavericks. "Over time, the replacement refs would have done much better. They would have improved a lot. They would have been used to the players. They would see plays they usually don't and get used to the new calls."
Johnson added that it was never a consideration to have replacement refs work the first part of the regular season until the regular officials were back in "game shape." Had a deal happened sooner, a push would have been made to get the referees back on the court before the preseason ended, Johnson said.
Johnson and commissioner David Stern, however, had nothing but praise for the job done by the replacements. The league had a contingency plan to use them during the regular season if the deal had fallen apart Friday.
"The replacement referees have been intensively evaluated, and we think that they have given us great confidence that our recruitment and development prospects for future NBA referees is in very good shape," Stern said.
Though the returning officials hit the ground running Tuesday and throughout the rest of next week, Johnson doesn't expect their performance to suffer at the outset.
"We want to deliver a perfectly called game, but I know we won't," he said. "On any given day, an NBA referee can have a great game and the very next day have a bad game. That's just the way it is. Just like players. We've got to get these guys on the court to get them going because we missed an opportunity in preseason.
"Will there be some degradation of performance? Well, relative to what? The teams are not going to be up to par, so we have some time to catch up. But we're not going into this like it's preseason and it doesn't matter. We've got to get these guys out there because starting Day One of the season it matters to these teams."
Seeing familiar faces back on the court also has its merits.
"It'll be good to see guys you know that you haven't seen since last season," Rockets forward Chuck Hayes said. "Some you know on a first-name basis, some you joke around with, some you want to get on their good side. It's good to see them back."
Several coaches were fined for criticizing replacement officials during the preseason. Johnson, a retired major general in the United States Army, doesn't have any illusions as what's in store on that front.
"It doesn't matter when we would have had them ready or who we put out there," he said. "What we do know is there will be complaining about the referees. It doesn't matter who's out there. It's just going to happen. It's the world I live in. People are saying, 'Bring our NBA referees back.' Well, here they come."
Art Garcia has covered the NBA for 10 years. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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