Hey David Stern, remember that giant can of worms you hastily opened at the end of November? You know which one I'm referring to, don't you? The one where you dropped a $250,000 stink bomb on the San Antonio Spurs (and your buddy Peter Holt) after Gregg Popovich sent home four of his top players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green) ahead of a Thursday-night thriller with the Miami Heat?
Yeah, that one. Well, allow me to serve you a scrumptious annelid salad, if you will.
If you're so concerned about putting out a product that isn't offensive to the entertainment sensibilities of the NBA's fans and sponsors alike, then why not do away with intentional fouling? Why not banish from the game a ploy that Pop has instituted with considerable glee in the past—the Hack-a-Shaq.
Or, in the parlance of our times, the Hack-a-Dwight.
If the commissioner is really so upset about coaches doing "a disservice to the league and our fans" (via SI.com's Ben Golliver), then why allow them to send opposing players to the line as they please at all? At present, teams are allowed to foul away from the play at their discretion without any consequence (other than the usual two shots) until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Thereafter, the offensive team is awarded a free throw and possession of the ball.
Which leaves smart coaches—Pop, Hall of Famer Don Nelson, Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson and Orlando Magic coach Jacques Vaughn (among others)—free to foul poor shooters as they please for the first 46 minutes of a game, so long as their players have fouls to give.
As it happens, this is solid strategy in certain situations, at least until someone like Dwight Howard—who made 8-of-16 hack attempts against the Magic on Sunday, per ESPN's J.A. Adande—proves otherwise by converting his opportunities with regularity. Forcing a serially-poor free-throw shooter to face his fears takes the opposing team out of its usual offensive rhythm while forcing the other coach in question to either sit the targeted player or allow him to lay bricks at the line.
And if said player keeps missing, there's always a chance that each clanker will grate on his confidence on both ends of the floor.
Teams usually resort to hacking when they already own the lead, as the Nets and the Magic have done during their respective fourth quarters in LA. Brooklyn fell short in part because Avery Johnson (a.k.a. The Little General) didn't instruct his underlings to foul Howard consistently.
Orlando, on the other hand, went to the Hack-a-Howard time and again until the two-minute mark. By that point, the Magic had successfully stretched a tenuous two-point lead into a decisive 10-point advantage in less than three minutes.
But as brilliantly and successfully as Jacques Vaughn and other NBA coaches have employed the Hack-a-(Insert Name Here) tactic at times, it's almost always at the expense of the integrity of the sport itself. See, basketball is a game of flow, one that's more enjoyable to watch when there's a fluidity about it. To put it simply, it's the duty of a sound offense to engender fluidity as a means of creating easy looks at the basket, while it's that of a sound defense to impede said fluidity.
In essence, "hacking" is a lazy defensive tactic that detracts from the usual ebb and flow of a basketball game. It allows the offending team to skirt its defensive responsibilities and stifle the rhythm and flow of the opposition while also exploiting the advantages inherent in its own lead.
Hacking, then, is a win-win for those teams that employ it, so long as the team that uses it has fouls to spare and the player being hacked continues to miss.
Of course, it's not the job of a head coach to maintain the integrity of the game, per se. His/her job, rather, is to win basketball games, and if the achievement of that end is aided by the abuse of a loophole in the rule book, then so be it.
If a change is to be made in this regard, it must be charged to those regarded as the "guardians" of the game. That's ultimately the title of the commissioner, a title to be worn by David Stern until he retires in February of 2014. At that point, it'll be up to current deputy commissioner Adam Silver to push for an appropriate change in the rules with the ever-shrinking Competition Committee.
And if the goal of a punishment like the one handed down to the Spurs by the commish is to discourage coaches from throwing the game through the shredder for their own benefit, then why not also address the intentional foul? It's not a rampant problem in the NBA, to be sure, but it is one that takes away from the spirit of basketball when utilized.
The league certainly took the idea of putting forth a more fluid and entertaining product during the mid-aughts, when it tightened rules governing contact on the perimeter, thereby opening up the game for guards and wings on offense. Neither did it dawdle when flopping, that scourge on the sport, came to the fore prior to the 2012-13 season.
Heck, Stern didn't even bother to see how the Spurs' B team fared against the defending champions on national television before apologizing to fans and foreshadowing the "substantial sanctions" that came down from on high the following day.
Why wait to address hacking? The can of worms is already open. Stern might as well grab his utensils.
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