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Commissioner Adam Silver addresses workplace misconduct, rules changes, looming free agency
NEW YORK — As agendas go, the one tackled by the NBA’s Board of Governors Thursday and Friday wasn’t the sort that would make headlines. A few rule changes all but rubber-stamped after prior consideration, some reports on the international game and on revenue sharing, an update on sports betting, and other business-as-usual items.
But coming as it did in the immediate wake of the league’s mandates on the Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban after an independent investigation into that team’s workplace culture, there were a lot of governors from the other 29 teams paying close and serious attention.
“In that room, it was a sobering moment for everyone there,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in discussing the findings from allegations that surfaced in a Sports Illustrated article last February.
“I think there’s a lot of introspection now … saying, can something like this happen in my workplace? Whether it’s the NBA or any other businesses they operate, what are the best practices preventing those things going forward? I can only say, we will redouble our efforts at the league and working with our teams to try to ensure that the kind of events that happened at the Mavericks never happen again.”
Silver, speaking with reporters after the conclusion of the Board’s two-day fall sessions, cited the Mavericks’ transparency in cooperating with the investigation into the oppressive work environment that persisted for years under former CEO Terdema Ussery.
He also talked of the limited precedents in assessing penalties in such a case, particularly on Cuban or the Dallas basketball operation. The incidents described or corroborated by 215 witnesses were limited to the franchise’s business operation, according to the investigation, and Cuban was found not to have committed or even to have known about them. None of the 215 people interviewed informed him directly.
Silver factored that into decision, one that has drawn criticism from some media outlets as being too lenient. As part of the resolution, Cuban agreed to donate $10 million to women’s organizations, including those focused on women in the sports industry and on domestic abuse. Had Silver simply imposed a fine on the Mavericks owner, the league’s by-laws limit the amount to $2.5 million.
“I don’t know what dollar amount could possibly compensate employees over a long period of time for that type of misconduct,” Silver said. “While I couldn’t compel him to pay [the $10 million donation], I went to him and thought, under the circumstances, that would be an appropriate number.”
The Mavericks also have been compelled to institute several reforms in their workplace, including promoting or hiring women into senior management positions, establishing protocols for reporting misconduct and educating employees on proper conduct.
But what had Silver encouraged Friday was the sense that changes imposed on the Dallas franchise might serve as a model for what the league’s other teams might willingly adopt. A portion of the investigative report featured 13 recommendations specifically for the Mavericks.
“But we at the league office thought it was so well done,” Silver said, “it clearly put in one place a set of rules that we think all workplaces should follow.”
And the No. 1 recommendation? “You need women in the workplace,” he said.
Three rule changes for 2018-19
Mercifully, Silver didn’t go into detail on the changes in adjudicating clear-path fouls, one of the league’s most vexing rules to call and, worse, review. It was the protracted video reviews by game officials of the labyrinthian rule and its extenuating circumstances that the change adopted Friday is intended to reduce, in both frequency and length.
“The changes to the clear path foul rule establish ‘bright line’ standards based on the position of players at the time of the foul,” the NBA’s official release explained, “while also narrowing required referee judgment and reducing the number of variables impacting the rule’s application.”
If you want chapter and verse, you can read more about clear-path definitions here.
The shot-clock reset change is far simpler. Rather than resetting to a full 24 seconds after an offensive rebound of a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim, it will go to 14 seconds. Two other scenarios in which the clock will reset to 14 seconds: after a loose-ball foul called on the defensive team immediately after a missed shot or free throw, or when the offensive team takes possession of the ball after it immediately goes out of bounds following a missed shot or free throw.
The 14-second reset has been in effect in the NBA’s G League the past two seasons, in the WNBA since 2016 and in FIBA play since 2014-15. It was used on an experimental basis in the summer leagues this year.
Finally, for purposes of triggering replays, the league’s definition of “hostile act” was expanded. Now, beyond looking at player vs. player interaction, the referees can review encounters involving players with coaches, coaches with coaches, and either with referees or fans.
The NBA long has been committed to freedom of movement by players between contracts. But over the past year or so, franchise stars such as Paul George in Indiana, Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio and most recently Jimmy Butler in Minnesota have pushed to move during contracts.
That leads to turmoil in markets that feel they’re being abandoned, and challenges to teams trying to enforce a contract for a player to stay or generate trade value when rivals know the star wants out. Butler, for example, reportedly wants to be dealt to the L.A. Clippers, the Knicks or the Nets rather than play his final season with the Timberwolves before hitting free agency next summer.
Silver was asked how the owners feel about such scenarios and if the league might have any involvement.
“We’re always trying to find the right balance in terms of right contract length, advantages of incumbent teams to keep [players] in those markets and keeping players focused on playing under their contracts,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s any scenario where these situations will go away completely.”
“It’s never been a secret that — in this sport in particular — players have enormous leverage. But teams have leverage, too,” Silver said. “It’s something that should be in everyone’s interest, frankly, teams and players, for players to honor contracts. Because in a team sport an individual player’s desire to leave that market has a huge impact on his teammates as well, many of whom have come to that market out of a desire to play with that player.”
The Timberwolves traded three promising young players — Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen — to Chicago in June 2017 for Butler, counting on his All-Star skills and experience to spark a return to the playoffs. That’s exactly what happened, but reports of Butler chafing with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and his alleged unhappiness over the Wolves’ handling of a contract extension, have led to serious drama in the Twin Cities.
At this point, team owner Glen Taylor reportedly might step in to consider trade offers for Butler, intervening due to the tight relationship between the player and Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau.
Regarding additional ways to aid a star’s current team — such as enabling that club to offer the fatter, five-year extension sooner, rather than waiting till his free agency — Silver noted the league’s collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players would need to be revised.
“I’m not sure there are any easy fixes here,” the commissioner said. “This is a relationship business and that’s something that’s never going to change. Despite advances in analytics, scouting, technology, it’s still a people business.”
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