NBA Makes Correct Rulings About Ariza and OdomThe NBA has suspended L.A. Lakers forward Lamar Odom one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on court altercation that broke out in the wake of the Type 2 Flagrant Foul committed by his teammate Trevor Ariza against Portland's Rudy Fernandez. Here is the play:
The Odom suspension was automatic and easier to predict than the sun rising in the East. The NBA rules unequivocally state that if any player who is not in the game leaves the area of the bench during an altercation then he will be suspended. The league has been enforcing the letter of this law for more than a decade and has brought the hammer down on everyone from Patrick Ewing to Amare Stoudemire. Around the :25 mark in the above video you can see Odom straying several feet beyond the bench area (he is past where the three point line extends), so he was a dead man walking by that point in terms of being suspended. Phoenix Suns' fans have hated this rule ever since Stoudemire and Boris Diaw violated it during a playoff series in 2007 but this is a good rule that works and should absolutely not be changed. The only two actions during a game that lead to an automatic suspension are throwing a punch (whether or not it connects) and leaving the bench area during an altercation. Those two rules have been strictly enforced by the NBA and that is why fighting has become virtually non-existent in the league. Since everyone knows that those rules will be enforced, players can keep their "tough guy cred" by walking up to each other, talking like big shots and then heading back to their own huddles; no one will question why they did not throw a punch because everyone knows that this will lead to an automatic suspension that costs them money and hurts their team. Look at that video again: NBA players average about 6-7, 230 and if they had started throwing real, closed fist punches they could have seriously injured someone, including very possibly fans and/or camera operators who were right in the vicinity of the players who were squaring off. It is up to the referees, coaches and the 10 players who are in the game to act as peacemakers, while the players who are on the bench need to stay on the bench, because just walking over is an escalation. Think about it: if you are arguing with someone and his 6-7, 230 buddy starts walking over, in the heat of the moment are you going to assume that this guy is a peacemaker or an antagonist?
A Type 2 Flagrant Foul carries with it an automatic ejection. The NBA announced that Ariza will not face any further disciplinary action. I first saw this play while watching NBA TV, so I heard the local Portland feed. The announcers should be named Homer and Homer, because they were screaming bloody murder almost before Fernandez even hit the ground. Before the referees even had a chance to make a ruling, they kept going on and on about Ariza; I thought that they were going to request that a War Crimes Tribunal be immediately formed. Fernandez took a horrible fall that was scary to watch and I hope that he makes a quick and full recovery. That said, the NBA handled this situation perfectly from beginning to end. The referees correctly assessed a Type 2 Flagrant Foul; as the NBA rulebook explains, a Type 1 Flagrant Foul involves "unnecessary contact," while a Type 2 Flagrant Foul involves "unnecessary and excessive contact...(that) usually has a swinging motion, hard contact and a follow through." Note that it is irrelevant whether or not the fouling player made a play on the ball or attempted to make a play on the ball; the only issues are whether the contact was "unnecessary" and/or "excessive." This play clearly fit the Type 2 Flagrant Foul definition.
A player only receives an additional suspension beyond the automatic ejection if the NBA really considers his conduct to be egregious in some fashion or if the player is a repeat offender. Play the above video and freeze it at the :18 mark. Fernandez is jumping to lay the ball up (or dunk it) and Ariza is jumping to attempt to block the shot; if you draw an arc of the natural swinging motion of Ariza's arm the way it is positioned, it looks like he has a good chance of blocking the shot. Unfortunately, because of the differing speeds that the players were moving at and Ariza's angle of pursuit, Ariza caught Fernandez right on the head. The Portland announcers kept making a big deal that Ariza grabbed Fernandez' arm and flung him down but that is ridiculous; if you look at the video from the :18 to :22 mark, Ariza's arm simply continues in the path that it had been going. He does not grab Fernandez. That may not have been obvious live and at full speed, but the Portland announcers kept insisting that Ariza had maliciously grabbed Fernandez even after they watched the replay repeatedly.
I think that Ariza was sincerely trying to go for the block but the angle of the play did not work out well. In retrospect, it looks like a dangerous play and perhaps an unnecessary one considering the lopsided score at the time but he only had a split second to make a decision; if he quits on the play, then he might be criticized for not hustling. Sometimes bad things happen even when there are not bad intentions. A Type 2 Flagrant Foul is the correct ruling, as is not disciplining Ariza any further.
You may recall that earlier this season, Andrew Bynum committed a Flagrant Foul that collapsed Gerald Wallace's left lung and fractured one of his ribs. The referees in that game only cited Bynum for a Type 1 Flagrant Foul but the league office subsequently upgraded that to a Type 2 Flagrant Foul, though they did not suspend him. I called Bynum's action "dirty" even though I made it clear that I don't believe that he is a dirty player. The difference between the Bynum play and the Ariza play is that what Bynum did is not a natural basketball move; he delivered a high elbow/forearm shiver into Wallace's chest, as opposed to swinging down to try to block the shot (or commit a regular foul) with his hand. I said at that time that the NBA was right to upgrade Bynum's foul and I thought that the only reason that they did not suspend him is that they were giving him the benefit of the doubt because he does not have a track record for being dirty. Regardless of whether Fernandez or Wallace turns out to be more seriously injured, the Bynum foul was a much worse action than the Ariza foul.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM