NBA Shootaround Crew Discusses the Stoudemire/Diaw SuspensionsGreg Anthony did a lot to inspire the NBA's rule prohibiting players who are not in the game from leaving the bench area during on court altercations, so it was interesting to hear his take on the subject during Thursday's NBA Shootaround pregame show on ESPN; for those of you who may have forgotten, on March 24, 1993 Anthony--then a guard for the New York Knicks--left the bench to join a fight between his teammate Doc Rivers and Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson. Anthony was not playing due to injury and was actually in street clothes; he received a five game suspension for his actions. At that time, the NBA only penalized players for leaving the bench during an altercation if they did not act as peacemakers but that policy was soon tightened to forbid any players from leaving the immediate vicinity of the bench in such situations.
While Anthony was a bit of a hothead as a player, he is definitely cool and rational in his role as an NBA analyst. Anthony completely supports the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench area and rejects the idea that they should be excused for making a natural, instant, emotional reaction: "Part of playing the game is being in control of your emotions, especially deep in the postseason when the stakes rise." Some have suggested that the NBA should have made an exception in this case because of Stoudemire's importance in the San Antonio-Phoenix series but Anthony contends that this is precisely the reason not to make an exception, arguing that if this rule has no teeth then it will cease to be effective. Anthony points out that the rule works, as demonstrated by the fact that players rarely leave the bench area in such situations: Stoudemire and Diaw were the only offenders in this instance, no one left the bench after Jason Richardson's hard foul on Mehmet Okur in the Utah-Golden State series and, going back to last year's playoffs, no one left the bench when James Posey delivered a forearm shiver to Kirk Hinrich that was at least as blatant as the one that Robert Horry put on Steve Nash.
Toronto Head Coach Sam Mitchell, a guest on NBA Shootaround, agreed with Anthony, saying that everyone knows what the rule is and that the rule should not be changed. He said that if anyone should be blamed it is the assistant coaches who did not restrain Stoudemire and Diaw before they wandered too far. Former Indiana Coach Rick Carlisle does not think that the NBA should rewrite the rule to provide for exceptions, saying, "Extra levels of discretion equal more shades of grey." The current rule is hard and fast, so everyone knows what the standard is. As Shaquille O'Neal said on TNT right after the incident, "If you cross the line, you lose your behind." If the NBA waters down the rule and starts suspending some guys while letting others off the hook then it will result in more controversy, not less, and will defeat the original purpose of the rule, which is to limit any on court altercations to the players who were already in the game plus the three officials.
Tim Legler offered a dissenting view, parroting the currently popular thought that the suspensions are not fair because the Suns received a heavier punishment for something that the Spurs instigated. He thinks that there should be some room for the NBA to exercise judgment in enforcing this rule. However, even Legler went on to add that he does not think that the suspensions cost the Suns Game Five, noting that game was up for grabs all the way until the end and the Suns could have won if they would have made better plays down the stretch.
I wish that the highly paid and very prominent "experts" who are commenting in print and on TV about the suspensions would stop whining about Stoudemire and Diaw, stop calling the series "tainted" and stop saying that Spurs star Tim Duncan should have been suspended for his actions in a situation that did not involve an altercation (and hence is not covered by the rule). This rule is designed to reduce fights and improve player safety and, as Anthony said, the bottom line is that it has done an excellent job in both regards. The numbers--a reduction in fights and the fact that this rule has rarely been violated in recent times because players know the consequences for doing so--speak for themselves. One more thing: the idea that players who leave the bench during a stoppage of play (to look after an injured teammate, perhaps) would be subject to suspension if someone throws a punch while they are on the court makes no sense. Duncan stood up because one of his teammates seemed to be injured; there was no altercation and no hint of an altercation but it looked for a moment like there might be an injury timeout. When there wasn't, Duncan sat back down. Some people have said that someone from the Suns should have thrown a punch at that moment and then Duncan would have been subject to suspension. That is simply asinine reasoning. One, Duncan was still standing in the immediate vicinity of his bench and had not sprinted 25 feet only to be restrained by several people as Stoudemire did. Two, if someone threw a punch at that moment and Duncan sat back down he would not have been suspended, in my opinion; after Horry fouled Nash, other Suns stood up to look to see what had happened but Stoudemire and Diaw were the only ones who moved far from their original positions on the bench to get in close proximity to the incident. Stoudemire, in particular, can be seen in the background of some of the photos of Horry and Raja Bell's confrontation, and he did not stop until several people grabbed him. Stoudemire was certainly close enough to exacerbate the situation and his presence there meant that people had to restrain him as opposed to dealing with Horry and Bell. Point blank, Stoudemire did exactly what the rule was intended to prevent and received the same punishment for it that every other previous violator has.
The NBA does not want to suspend players, but two things lead to automatic suspensions: throwing a punch, even if it does not connect, and leaving the bench area during an altercation. That is why Baron Davis, Bruce Bowen and Jason Richardson were assessed flagrant fouls--either during the game or after video review--but not suspended for their various recent transgressions. That is also why you see very few punches thrown in the NBA and why bench clearing brawls have become a thing of the past.
Commissioner David Stern rightly said that any statement that the Spurs benefited from Robert Horry's action is "palaver." Horry got suspended two games for his conduct (no one seems too concerned that the Suns will be at full strength in Game Six but that the Spurs will be without the services of Big Shot Rob). Stoudemire and Diaw's actions are completely separate; if they had kept their cool, they would not have been punished. It is wrong to blame Horry for their misconduct.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:16 AM