Lakers debate NBA's new technical foul rule
In what amounted to be a free clinic, Lakers forward Lamar Odom demonstrated after practice Thursday how ordinary reactions within the flow of a basketball game could easily be perceived as demonstrative acts.
That certainly appeared to be the case when Odom was given a technical foul in the Lakers' 98-95 exhibition victory Wednesday over the Sacramento Kings. Officials determined he left his hands up in the air too long after he was called for a foul on Kings power forward Carl Landry with 6:35 left in the second quarter, but Odom's body language clearly showed he wasn't protesting the call. That's just one example that prompted the NBA players union to say it's planning to sue the league over its new rule, with executive director Billy Huntersaying in a statement that rules changes are "an unnecessary and unwarranted reaction." Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the union's president, didn't speak to reporters after practice because he had an NBA Cares commitment.
The NBA has doubled the fine for technical fouls, charging players $2,000 for each of their first five, increasing it to $5,000 once they reach No. 16 and handing out one-game suspensions for every other one after that. As ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reported, officials have given out 69 technical fouls in the first 59 exhibition games for violations other than defensive three-second calls. That's the most amount of technical fouls given, Sheridan reports citing the Elias Sports Bureau, since Oct. 14, 2009, when there were 51 technical fouls through the first 62 exhibition games.
"It's just a little weird," Odom said. "It's hard to determine what's detrimental to the game.
"If you drop an 'F'bomb while you raise your hand, then I can understand. If you try to intimidate with body language, I can understand. Or if you go a little crazy using your body, I can understand. If you're using your body, I can understand. But if you're making a gesture that's derogatory or not pointed at anyone, then how could a ref off the ball or on the play call a tech? I think it's pretty tough."
As indicated by Kevin Garnett's ejection Wednesday during the second quarter of the Celtics-Knicks exhibition game, officials haven't shown favoritism toward star players when enforcing the rule. Various Lakers had their own theories. Odom joked that such a strict interpretation of the rule could lead to a change in the league's marketing slogan from "Where Amazing Happens" to "Where Normal Happens," given that many of the promos feature players reacting with emotion after a highlight reel play. Pau Gasol joked that he wouldn't even complain about a call in Spanish in case some of the referees are bilingual. (In an interesting aside, Knicks center Timofey Mozgov got a technical foul for complaining about a call in Russian as he walked past one of the referees Wednesday during the Knicks-Celtics game). And Lakers Coach Phil Jackson shared that during the Sacramento game, his coaching staff jokingly alerted officials about Kings players who held their hands in the air too long but worried that the rule might spur teams to engage in what he calls "tit for tat."
Still, Jackson said he prefers the league makes an effort to decrease demonstrative acts, though the NBA issued similar guidelines before the 2006-07 campaign only to abandon enforcement over the course of the season.
"Guys will learn," Jackson said. "The one thing about it is guys will learn quickly if they're fined or get ejected. It's one of those things that we say, if you want to stop carrying, if you want to stop traveling ... just call it. Guys will stop doing it."
But the assessment from Odom and Gasol revealed they don't have a problem with the new rule so much as to what degree officials will enforce it. That issue in itself, they fear, could create inconsistency with calls and possibly lead to unnecessary fines. After all, as Odom said, "I want to keep my money."
"I don't know if there's much we can do other than see what happens, go through it and complain," Gasol said. "I don't know -- if we complain, we'll get fined even more. So hopefully talk to Derek and he can do whatever he can. From our perspective, play and try to respect any changes."
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