NBA changes timeout rules to improve game flow

Board of Governors also approves moving trade deadline to before All-Star Game

LAS VEGAS — Over time, the cliché about the last two minutes of NBA games changed. Where once the silly notion was “that’s all you need to see to have seen the whole thing,” the claim about — and knock against — the late stages of a typical game evolved into “two minutes that actually last 30.”

There has been more truth to the latter in recent years than there ever was to the former, so the NBA is changing some timeout rules to address it. The league’s Board of Governors unanimously approved recommendations by the NBA competition committee to reduce the number of timeouts, standardize the length of the halftime intermission and limit the wanderings of free-throw shooters.

All with the goal of putting more giddy-up in the game’s git-along, especially late.

“We’re pretty happy with the length of our game,” commissioner Adam Silver told reporters Wednesday in announcing the changes. The average duration of an NBA regular season game has declined from about 2 hours 23 minutes, Silver said, to approximately 2:15.

“We were more focused here on the pace and the flow of the game. What we heard from our fans and heard from many of our teams was that the ends of games in particular were too choppy. I think since I was a kid, people have been talking about the last two minutes of our game.

“We think these new changes will have a significant impact, especially at the end of the game.”

Effective with this 2017-18 season, the maximum number of timeouts in a regulation game will drop from 18 to 14. And in a major modification, instead of allowing each team to call three timeouts in the final two minutes, the new limit will be two timeouts in the final three minutes.

The herky-jerky pattern of basket, timeout, foul, free throws, timeout, basket, timeout, lather, rinse, repeat might be over.

Folks in the arenas should experience a sense of more action, less inaction. Folks viewing at home might share in that, though the league was careful to accommodate its advertisers: Now all timeouts will be 75 seconds in length, rather than “full” timeouts that lasted 100 seconds and so-called “20-second” timeouts that really ran 60 seconds.

That’s plenty of available time to see Chris Paul’s treehouse crash through his garage again.

“What we’ve done, we’ve found other opportunities in the format … to ensure we get our full complement of commercials in,” Silver said. “It’s the reality of the telecasts. But it also works in that, even if we weren’t going to commercial, players still need rest. That’s something we’ve focused on as well.”

In the new format, each quarter will have two mandatory timeouts; the old rule mandating a third timeout in the second and fourth quarters is gone. In overtime, each side will be limited to two timeouts rather than three.

The halftime period will begin immediately upon the end of the second quarter, standardizing the intermission at 15 minutes. Previously that break began a little later on some nights or in some arenas.

So now, any team that is not ready to start play at the expiration of the halftime clock will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty.

The same goes for free throw shooters who venture beyond the 3-point line between attempts.

One bit of down time that was not addressed by the competition committee was the practice of teams huddling in unofficial timeouts during replay reviews. Some broadcasters and coaches have suggested the 10 players on the court head to “neutral corners” rather than convene at their respective benches for bonus coaching and strategizing.

“Ultimately the view was, if there was a break in the action, it seemed artificial and silly to suggest that coaches can’t speak to their players,” Silver said. “Our teams are so smart, they’ll be sending hand signals and other things. It was just one area we decided we didn’t need to intrude.”

In the biggest news to come out of this week’s meetings besides the rule changes, the Board of Governors also approved moving the February trade deadline from the Thursday after the All-Star Game to the Thursday 10 days before the All-Star Game. The purpose? To help teams avoid the disruption of adding new players just as practices and games are resuming after the break.

Silver added: “[There] was the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the All-Star break, that the All-Star break would have been an opportunity for the player to move himself, his family, get his family readjusted and get readjusted to the new team when they have that four- or five-day period to do that.”

Also, the commissioner noted, the 2017-18 schedule begins a week earlier, so an earlier trade deadline allows players to appear in more games with their new teams. As for an All-Star player who gets traded before All-Star Weekend, Silver said such cases would be addressed as they occur. Nothing prevented an All-Star from being traded between his selection and the game in the past, with the deadline after the Game.

In fielding other questions, Silver touched on several topics:

Dallas owner Mark Cuban’s recent comments that once his team was eliminated from a shot at the postseason, it avidly “tanked” to improve its draft lottery position. “Yes, it’s not what you want to hear as commissioner,” Silver said. “I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about. I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words. When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games.”

Concern that with so many talented players in the West, the playoff format should be changed to a straight 1-through-16 seeding without regard for conferences. The league looked at this issue two years ago, Silver said. “We concluded that given all the focus on sports science, health of our players, impact of travel, it didn’t make sense,” he said about moving to a balanced schedule during the season, the “only fair way” to then qualify teams with the 16 best records. In the two years since that study, Silver said, only one team with a top-16 record – the 2016 Chicago Bulls – did not secure a playoff berth.

— The relentless growth of the Las Vegas Summer League and surrounding events, from record attendance and massive media coverage to the NBA and its teams gathering for offseason planning and management. “We don’t have baseball’s equivalent really of their ‘Winter Meetings, but I think this is about as close as you can come to it,” Silver said. He commended Warren LeGarie and Albert Hall, who oversee the LVSL. But he stuck with his standard response to a Las Vegas reporter, that “relocation or expansion is not on the table right now.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.