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

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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:

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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:

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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..

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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.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.