NBA coaches share their opinions on the rule changes for the 2017-18 season

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

“Do more with less” has become a cliché, a bromide of the business world typically voiced when times are tight, raises are scarce and folks are made to feel lucky just to be employed.

The NBA has its own version as it heads into the 2017-18 season, in spite of record revenues, popularity and paychecks for many of its key participants. Specifically, players and coaches are being asked to reach peak physical condition and game-readiness despite a shorter preseason and fewer tune-up games in which to prep.

And the coaches will have to get by with a maximum of seven timeouts this season, down from nine, per rule changes approved by the Board of Governors in July.

The reasons are laudable. The tighter calendar now is a tradeoff for a more relaxed schedule in the regular season, the league’s most direct attempt to accommodate players’ and coaches’ arguments for more rest and recovery during the grind of 82 games. Shifting and scrunching October partially into September, while cutting down the obligation to play eight preseason games, allows the 2017-18 games that count to begin a week earlier, thereby spreading out dates to reduce the number of back-to-back games and eliminate four-in-five-night obstacle courses.

Tuning the timeout patterns in games allows for better flow and continuity for the teams as well as fans in the arenas or viewing at home. Neither was instituted to reduce overall game length, per se. But both changes could lead to results that show up there, too.

The challenge now is for everyone to deal with it.

We’ll play those four games, we may prepare for one or two like a regular season game.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens on fewer preseason games

Will the reduction in timeouts from nine to seven, the end of distinct “full” and “20-second” timeouts into uniform 75-second breaks in the action and the limit of just two timeouts per team in the final three minutes alter coaches’ strategy?

Does having fewer preaseason practices and games force coaches to make less informed roster decisions or limit a player’s opportunities to impress his bosses?

We put those questions to many of the league’s coaches recently when they came through Chicago for their annual preseason meetings. Here are some of their takes:


In the past, teams would play as many as eight preseason games. With 30 franchises, that meant 120 games in which players could shine (or not), coaches could see what plays work (or not) and most of them would be antsy to get going with the games that counted. This season, there are a total of only 76 preseason games, with most teams playing four and some booked for as few as three.

Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota: “I think it’s for the good. Starting the season earlier is good for the league, just because we can spread the season out a little longer. Less back-to-backs, the elimination of four-in-fives – now, there are four-in-sixes, which is still tough. But it helps as far as people sitting out the nationally televised games. … There are advantages and disadvantages. Older teams, you’re concerned about how much practicing you do. You want to keep ‘em healthy. How you pace the team when you’re older vs. how you pace the team when you’re younger. … The challenge is, when you look at an older player, they have the wisdom and all the tricks from what they’ve accumulated over the years. For a younger player coming into the league, the question is, how do you speed up the learning process? Usually it’s through practice and repetition and going out in games with the trial-and-error of trying to execute things.”

Steve Clifford, Charlotte: “By playing a shorter preseason, playing less games, we’re going to get more practice days throughout the season. You have fewer back-to-backs. I think it’s better for the players – there’s no more 18 [games] in 30 nights anymore, five in seven nights. Those are really demanding physically – shoot, they wear the coaches out and to play is much harder. … I look at it the other way. I’d like to have days to practice in between games. Hopefully we’ll get more of those. It’s going to benefit the teams who use that time between games most wisely.”

Terry Stotts, Portland: “I think three weeks is plenty. I think everybody is geared in. I wouldn’t anticipate one week changing the quality of play.”

Rick Carlisle, Dallas (and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association): “We’ve been lobbying for less preseason games for decades. And if you’re going to make the schedule better to eliminate four-in-fives and fewer back-to-backs, the only way to do it is to decrease the exhibitions and start the season earlier. Which is exactly what we’re doing. I applaud Adam [Silver, NBA commissioner] and Michele [Roberts, executive director of the players’ union] for coming up with a model that’s going to work. It’s going to work extremely well.”

Alvin Gentry, New Orleans: “What was really happening with the preseason games, when you had eight, you used four. So basically what they said was, ‘If you’re really only going to use four, there’s no sense having eight, when you’re not playing [main] guys in some of them.’ I think what we’ll see now is, you’ll play your rotation players a lot more because you only have four games to prepare. … Will the games be ragged to start the season? I don’t think so. We have preseason workouts now where, you can’t go 5-on-5 but you can get a lot of skill things in there. And as far as preparation for camp, you get a lot of things done there. So when training camp starts, you’re way ahead of the curve anyway.”

Brad Stevens, Boston: “The loss of practice time is more important. Preseason games to me are still practices, so it’s not that big of a focus for us. We’ll play those four games, we may prepare for one or two like a regular season game. But for the most part, we’ll treat those as practices. Our training camp will last well beyond the first [regular-season] game. … Everybody’s in the same boat. It’s just part of the experience. Maybe we learn that those extra 7-10 days weren’t all that beneficial and the product will be roughly the same at the start of the year. Maybe we’ll learn we don’t have everything in we want to and we’ll be doing some things on the fly, which will be a good challenge too.”

Scott Brooks, Washington: “Putting everything in can be challenging, but this year’s unique with all the coaches coming back from last season. So there’s no new staffs. I think that’s the first time in 1,000 years. … The challenge is making sure everybody is game ready. You need to utilize and manage every day so that, come opening night, you’re feeling good about your team and yourself. … As a player, I would have missed [extra games] because I was a backup fighting to make a team. If you have less games, that’s less time when you could shine. If you have eight, when I was trying to make it, I knew I had three or four games where I knew I was going to get solid minutes. I was either going to play well or not play well, but at least I could control my own fate.”

Nate McMillan, Indiana: “We are concerned. Only having four preseason games, what we emphasized to our players was that conditioning was going to be vital. They only get four preseason games and then, Oct. 18 for us, the real deal starts. For a young team like ourselves, it’s always important to get off to a good start and come out of the game aggressive and hard. … So we’ve set it up where we kind of have two training camps. I wanted days off before our opener, so we’ll have about a week. A refresher course to work on things and give guys some time maybe to heal from the preseason games.”


Cutting down the timeout total overall and standardizing them at 75 seconds is significant. But limiting coaches to just two timeouts in the final three minutes (vs. three in the final two) is earth-shaking for strategy and play-calling late in games.

Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City: “The big thing is, we’re all under the same rules. It’s not like they’re taking one timeout from me and they’re giving an extra one to someone else. We all have to abide by the same rules. Anytime new rules come in, there’s always an adjustment period and a learning curve on that. … Strategically, yeah, you’re going to have to look at where your timeouts are. And creating situations in practice where, if you don’t have a timeout and there is a stoppage of play, can you have things in – whether it’s a length-of-the-floor, side-out-of-bounds or underneath-out-of-bounds – where they know what they do instead of coming to the bench. Where they can go right to those things.”

Thibodeau: “Nah, I think you can manage that. You’re going to have plays that are your plays that you’re going to run in certain situations. As long as you know what you’re doing, you should be OK.”

Clifford: “You’re going to have to have an organizational segment to practices where you’re ready [for situations]. Instead of having the third timeout in the last two minutes at 48 seconds, say, where you’re down five but they score to make it seven, most times in the past, you’d call timeout, advance it and set up a play, now I would say most nights you’re going to want to go on the run right there and have something you can do without a timeout. The only way you can do that is using practice time to prepare for that.”

Stevens: “The first thing I’m interested to see how that impacts the second unit rotations. When you talk about the 8:59 timeouts gone on the second and fourth quarters, does that limit the amount of time those people are playing because they’re playing extended minutes without a break in there? Or does it increase because they can get into a better flow and play better? It’s a different rhythm. Which I think will be a really good rhythm for the fans and the game in general. If you think about not having a timeout from three minutes [in the first quarter] to seven [in the second] other than the quarter break, that’s a pretty good deal. … At the end of the game, we’re all going to have to be really prepared with calls on the fly. You’re probably going to have to have a couple of go-to’s that you can run on the fly without having to call timeouts to set ‘em up.”

Gentry: “I think the change is going to be overrated. Everyone would like to have a couple of timeouts the last 30 seconds of a game. You’ve just got to manage your timeouts.”

Brooks: “Very little effect. I think every coach will agree, the last two or three minutes have taken forever. I think this is going to be better for all parties involved. Players, coaches, fans – and media. Or do you guys have deadlines anymore?”

Carlisle: “Our coaches have a high level of creativity and ingenuity. The whole thing with timeouts will be figured out in short order. No one’s concerned about it. No one.”

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.


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