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NBA - Going Beyond the Zone

By Piet Van Leer
Saturday, November 3rd, 2001

Many people are skeptical about the NBA lifting its prohibition on zone defenses. The adversaries of the zone contend it will change the NBA. Good. The NBA is boring. Last year, it wasn't a matter of who would win, but if the Lakers could go undefeated throughout the playoffs. And as long as Shaq and Kobe are there, you could fill the rest of the squad with the original cast members of the Washington Generals and they would still win.

I never fully understood the rationale behind banning the zone, except that it makes college basketball that much more interesting. It's the equivalent of telling a Defensive Coordinator that he can only rush a certain amount of lineman at the quarterback, and his cornerbacks have to play man-to-man. Or dictating to a manager that a Ted Williams shift is forbidden when a player of Barry Bonds' caliber steps to the plate. Obviously, the scoring increases, but the game is cheapened.

What the NBA fails to understand is it's not up to them to increase scoring by tinkering with the rules. If anything, they should make it harder to score. That way, points would actually have some value. But everyone is obsessed with this 100-point plateau, as if that is the standard for a good game. My standard is if it entertains me throughout, it doesn't matter if the end result is 72-70.

The problem is the NBA hasn't been entertaining in years. The reason is simple - everybody runs the exact same offense and defense! Sure, they dress it up under different names: Triple Post, Motion Offense, Flex, etc. But it basically comes down to a big man getting double teamed and swinging the ball around until the open man is found. I don't know why they even have coaches!

So when everybody has the same offense and defense, the end result is whoever has the best players wins. Except that in the NBA, where you have to guard man-to-man, it comes down to who has the best two players, not the best team. And we've seen who has the two best players. I'm not trying to diminish the skills of Phil Jackson, either. He gets the best players to play their best. But if he was still with the Bulls running the triple post with Fizer and Crawford, they'd want his head on a stake.

So I am excited for the retro zone look. I realize though that the NBA will continue to reshape the game, so I've taken the liberty of putting together a couple suggestions for further rules changes.

1. Make the Court Wider

When Dr. James Naismith invented this game with his peach basket, he probably didn't envision the smallest person on the court standing at 6'3". Now, it takes about three dribbles to get past half court, and it amazes me when someone shoots a three pointer at the baseline without stepping out of bounds. The congestion in the frontcourt slows down any semblance of an internal passing game, which could be alleviated with more room for the enormous players to maneuver. Then you could make the lanes wider and pretty soon, there might be enough room for more than three players around the rim.

2. Too Many Timeouts

These are professional athletes. They have one job - play basketball. They don't have to weld, garden, deliver mail - they only have to play basketball. So why is it then, in the last minute of every game, they have to call a timeout after every possession? Why does the NBA give every team like nine timeouts and a twenty? What's with that twenty? If the coach can get his point across in twenty seconds, what are they talking about for two minutes every other time? Make every timeout twenty seconds. It'll preserve the flow of the game and will force me to stop changing the channel to one of the twelve Law & Order's that are running in syndication during every timeout.

I was amazed at how long it took to end a Bulls game when Michael was around. The Bulls would call timeout, tell everyone to go away, and let Michael win it. Then the Jazz call a timeout, to see who the Bulls put on the floor. Amazingly enough, Jordan was out there. Then the Jazz would use the delay of game trick to see the play develop (shh ... it's going to Michael). All this, and I've seen Lenny Briscoe throw three suspects up against a chain link fence. I flip back to the game and I can't remember what's going on!

3. Shorter Regular Season

Eighty-two games is too long. How about forty? Or twelve? Twelve is good. There’s no point to the regular season, except for fantasy owners. You can write in fourteen of the sixteen teams, and the Nets and Clippers are never among them. Just put ‘em in a hat, draw for match-ups, roll the dice for home court, and the Lakers will still win it all. All teams try to do now is stay healthy during the season, so when the playoffs roll around, they’re ready to step it up a notch. Except the Heat, who wilt every postseason because they play so hard during the marathon season.

4. Minimum Age of 21 to Play in the NBA

Quality of play is down in the NBA for a number of reasons, one of which is teenagers jumping to the pros without the fundamentals. When a team sees an 18-year-old with all the potential in the world, they can't afford to pass on him if he turns out to be the next Garnett. So they sign him to a big deal, and play him before he's ready. It's not a right to play in the NBA. It's a right to vote, breathe, and surf the web for Internet porn. You have to be 21 to gamble, so why not be 21 to gamble with your life. For every Kobe, there are ten Leon Smiths.

4. Stop Insisting the Lottery Isn't Fixed

Why they insist on calling it a lottery is beyond me. The Knicks get Ewing. The Spurs get Duncan. The Magic get Shaq and the #1 the very next year. And now Jordan gets the #1. They're not even trying to cover it up anymore. As reassuring it is to know the ball juggling process - integrity is kept in tact by Deputy Puppet Master Russ Granik and an independent witness, we would rather just have them level with us.

5. Disband the Cleveland Cavaliers

When the Nets or Clippers show up, you can at least point to Jason Kidd or Elton Brand to sustain your evening's entertainment. What about the Cavs? Can you name one? What about their coach? Doesn't matter really - he was hired for one reason - to be fired. This is a team that has been going nowhere ever since they traded Ron Harper for Danny Ferry. No one ever says, "Did you see the Cavs play last night?" It's never the up-and-coming Cavaliers. They're always depressing. Their greatest claim to fame was giving us the memory of the shot. Other than that, there's no reason to hold onto this mistake by the lake.

6. Sprewell for Public Relations Director

I know this isn't the forum because it's not a rule change. He did sue the NBA after they fired him for choking his coach, threatened his teammate with a two by four, and didn't seem overly concerned when his pit bull bit off part of his daughter's face. But when asked about the Knicks chances this year, he's candid.

He wonders aloud why they have three six-foot, slow point guards to go along with two shooting guard playing small forward. And instead of making a push to sign Webber, they spent their money on another small forward and an undersized power forward.

You may not want him at your dinner table, but he's the only Knick being honest about their chances this year. The NBA could use a little honesty instead of insisting everything is great all the time.

With these changes, the NBA's progression can continue to move forward. And in the immortal words of Barry Bonds "Go Baseball."

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