UPDATE: The NBA will not suspend Paul George for Game 7

38 Comments

UPDATE 4:44 pm: The Indiana Pacers will have Paul George for Game 7. That according to Ken Berger at CBSSports.com:

I think this was the right call by the league. It is possible that under some older, stricter interpretations of the rule you could have gone after George (or more strongly Rasual Butler) but I think that misses the spirit of the rule — keep the guys on the bench from escalating things. That didn’t even come close to happening here. No reason to taint a Game 7 for that.

—Kurt Helin

11:27 am: The Pacers and Hawks will play a Game 7 tomorrow. Will Paul George and Rasual Butler play in it?

Let’s start with the relevant rule:

During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.

During last night’s Mike Scott-George Hill altercation, George and Butler came onto the court. The last replay here shows it best:

image

The four feet in the corner belong to Butler and George. Butler, in the black shoes, goes farthest – partway inside the 3-point arc. George, in the gold shoes, doesn’t go quite as far, but he steps all the way inbounds.

The coach in slacks and black shoes to their right is permitted to leave the bench to break up the fight. The rule applies only to players.

So, what will happen to George and Butler?

NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn will decide. His predecessor, Stu Jackson, offered his opinion:

When Jackson suspended Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for a 2007 playoff game, he gave a potentially telling explanation:

“A precedent wasn’t necessary here,” Jackson said. “The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear.

“Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are.”

That was David Stern’s NBA, and with Adam Silver now in charge and Thorn determining punishment, precedent doesn’t necessarily apply.

Regardless, this is as close a call as I’ve seen. The key question: What defines “the immediate vicinity” of a bench?

During live-ball situations, players routinely wander over the sideline without penalty. Crossing the sideline alone doesn’t cause penalty. It matters only if they interfere with play.

Neither Butler nor George interfered with the fight, but that’s not the standard. The rule is designed to prevent fights from escalating and players leaving “the immediate vicinity of their bench” alone causes a suspension.

As the NBA hoped, the rule worked here. George immediately retreated to the bench after stepping forward, and though Butler went farther and wasn’t quite as quick getting back, he returned without incident, too.

But the NBA also wants to maintain the conditions that currently exist. When players fighting see players on the bench come toward the altercation – even if just a step or two before retreating – that can escalate the incident. The league also surely wants to discourage players from even considering leaving the bench.

The question might become: How relative is “immediate vicinity” to where the fight occurs?

If the fight had spilled closer to the Pacers’ bench, even if George and Butler maintained their exact position just inside the sideline, I think we’d be having an entirely different conversation. I have little doubt both would be suspended in that case.

Last night, multiple Hawks came onto the court during the fight. Look over Frank Vogel’s left shoulder in the background:

image

Atlanta’s bench was on the far end of the court, nowhere near the fight. Do the Hawks then have a larger area considered the “immediate vicinity” of their bench?

If the term is not relative to where the fight occurs, Atlanta players should be facing suspension, too.

If “immediate vicinity” is a relative term, and I suspect it is, the NBA faces a tough decision on whether George and Butler left the bench..

***

As an aside, I found this section the rule very interesting:

If five or more players leave the bench, the players will serve their suspensions alphabetically, according to the first letters of their last name.

A team must have a minimum of eight players dressed and ready to play in every game.

So, if a team’s next game is big and its star player leaves the bench during a fight, at least four of his teammates who come before him alphabetically should also leave the bench – forcing a one-game delay of the star’s suspension.

Maybe that’s what Rasual Butler was going for here? (Not really.)

It wouldn’t have worked, anyway. George ranks fifth on the team alphabetically, and Chris Copeland was already in the game. So, at most, only three teammates before George could have gotten suspended with him.

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

Getty Images
13 Comments

This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.