Jackson
Jackson
The four rules changes approved by the Board of Governors in a conference call on Thursday, April 12, elicited controversy, debate, a bit of confusion and many questions over the past few weeks. To help answer some of the questions, NBA.com sat down for a Q&A session with the league's Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, Stu Jackson.

Why do you feel rules changes need to be made?

Jackson: Historically, we've always looked at areas where we may improve the NBA game. This year, given the evolution of our game and the evolution of legislation to our game, we felt we needed to address a few areas.

Can you explain why the Select Committee on Playing Rules decided on each of the following rules changes and why the committee feels each change will help the game?

Eliminating illegal defense guidelines:

Jackson: The illegal defense guidelines needed to be eliminated because they have become problematic. They are problematic for our fans, who don't understand the rule. They are problematic for the officials, who admittedly have had difficulty administering the rule. And finally, our teams have used the guidelines in a way that produces isolation basketball. Teams identify areas on the floor that they can use to their advantage in a given offensive matchup and this produces a real sameness of play amongst a lot of our teams. With isolation basketball, a lot of our teams began standing around. There is little player movement, there is little ball movement, and there is a decreasing amount of fastbreak opportunities. These developments began with the misuse of the illegal defense guidelines and therefore they needed to be eliminated. By eliminating them, our desired result is to get a game that once again is based on passing, cutting, player movement, and ball movement. A game that hopefully produces fastbreak opportunities because that is the way our game should be played.

A defensive three-second violation that would prohibit a player on defense from being in the lane for more than three seconds, except when the player is defending an opponent in the lane area:

Jackson: When we eliminated the illegal defense guidelines, the number one concern was that teams would take a bigger player, like a Shaquille O'Neal, Theo Ratliff, Shawn Bradley, or Dikembe Mutombo, and simply put him in the middle of the lane to camp out and prohibit drives to the basket and encourage low-percentage shots. In an effort to help alleviate that concern, the defensive three-seconds violation was recommended. Prohibiting a player from being in the lane for longer than three seconds will hopefully prevent a player from simply camping in the lane for the entire possession.

Reducing the time to advance the ball past midcourt from 10 seconds to eight:

Jackson: The desired result here is really two-fold. First, by reducing the amount of time a team has to cross the midcourt, our hope is that teams will advance the ball from backcourt to frontcourt at a quicker pace and run, not walk, the ball up the floor. Second, we hope that by reducing the time that it will encourage defensive teams to extend their defense three-quarter or full court in an effort to get a violation on the offense. So we hope this rule helps to speed up the game and encourage full-court defense.

Reduce foul calls from incidental contact:

Jackson: That particular change was really proposed for two reasons. First, to take out the so-called touch fouls that are whistled by the officials during a game and seem to disrupt the flow of the game, even though they don't affect the play. So we're going to put some discretion back in the hands of the officials in calling a simple touch foul and allow that touch to happen without calling a foul. Second, if defensive teams know that they're not going to be called for a simple bump or touch foul, it might encourage them to aggressively defend by going out and extending the full court.

The committee acknowledged that there will be some discretion in the eyes of the officials, but given certain guidelines, we felt the officials would effectively be able to call a touch foul.

Why did the committee decide not to just simply adjust the current illegal defense rules?

Jackson: A major reason why we didn't just again elect to deal with the illegal defense guidelines was that's what we effectively have been doing for the last 20-30 years and it's led us to this point where we have a game that is not necessarily a game that flows or has a lot of movement. Rather than trying to tinker with rules that we thought were not advantageous to the game, we decided to eliminate them completely.

How do you respond to the criticism that allowing zone defenses will only serve to further restrict the individuality and athleticism that makes the NBA great?

Jackson: Well, I don't necessarily agree with that because what identifies our league are the great plays and great athletic players in it. Whether you use the illegal defense guidelines or you allow any defense, those great players will still be our best players, no matter what type of defense you throw at them. On the other hand, if defenses are designed to stop a player with a specific type of zone defense, that's okay too because perhaps the byproduct of that will be that more players get involved. In five-man offensive schemes there will be more movement, more players taking shots, a different requirement to have better shooters. We think that would be good for the game. Over the long haul, you're not going to stop a great player from being great, no matter what defense you have.

Will these changes radically alter the game next season or are they part of a long-term solution that will affect change over several seasons?

Jackson: The committee recognized that there will be an evolution of the institution of the new rules. The rules will be instituted for next season, but the way that our game will be played under those rules will evolve with time. There is going to be an adjustment period for the players and, more importantly, the coaches to offenses and defenses under the new system. Our hope is that the net result will be a better game in time.

How was the select committee on rules formed?

Jackson: The select committee was chaired by Jerry Colangelo, who was designated by David Stern to form the committee. Then Jerry selected what I feel are some of the best basketball minds in the history of the NBA game, guys like Jerry West, Dick Motta, Jack Ramsay and Bob Lanier. The focus was really to try to get as many years of experience on the committee as posible.

When will these changes take effect? Will the changes be tested during the 2001 summer leagues?

Jackson: We'll institute the rules in the summer leagues and, more importantly, when our players begin preseason play next October. Certainly that will be a time when we can look at how the rules are working, but also a time of adjustment for NBA teams and players.

I think there will be a time of transition where it will be uncomfortable for the players and for the coaches. But we have the best coaches in the world and the best players and eventually they will figure out what works best for their team personnel under these new rules.