In the wake of a high-profile missed call that went against Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said officials are “absolutely held accountable” and disciplined for making such mistakes.
“We don’t publicize discipline for officials. We don’t think that will be appropriate,” Silver said Friday in an interview with ESPN’s Sage Steele on SportsCenter. “But their assignments are affected by the quality of their calls, whether or not they progress into the playoffs and then round by round is impacted by the accuracy of their calls and their demeanor on the floor. So there is a system for overseeing and making those judgments about officials. But more to your earlier point about getting the calls right, that’s again not a new issue.”
James was fouled in the closing seconds of a tie game between the Lakers and Boston Celtics on Jan. 28, but the foul was not called. Boston went on to win in overtime.
The NBA’s referees union posted a public apology a day later on its official Twitter account for getting the call wrong. One of the criticisms of how the moment played out was that there was no mechanism available to the referees to adjust the call, something Silver said the league needs to look at.
“I know some people in that particular call you mentioned in that Celtics-Lakers game were upset that there was no opportunity for replay,” Silver said. “Many people focused on the coach not having another challenge. But remember in our league, you can’t challenge a non-call. And there’s a lot of difficulty there when you get into non-call. You could suggest every moment of a game is a non-call when a call isn’t being made in a way.
“But so what’s the beginning and the end of the play? And if indeed the officials missed the foul but then the other team is saying, well, go back 15 seconds, they missed something else there, it’s not an easy issue, but it’s something we’re going to look at because my personal view is I don’t mind the challenge system but also think the ultimate goal is to get it right, not put the pressure on the coach in terms of that additional tactic on using their challenge appropriately.”
Silver also touched on the subject of load management, a hot topic in NBA circles in recent seasons as teams and training staff vigilantly monitor how much wear-and-tear players are enduring over the course of an 82-game regular season and the playoffs.
Silver said the topic has come up in collective bargaining talks with the National Basketball Players Association, as the two sides continue to work towards a new agreement following a decision to push back the mutual opt-out date until next month.
One possible remedy, Silver said, was to tie awards to the number of games played.
“I don’t want to suggest there’s a magic bullet here,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s just about incentivizing players to play more, that the teams are as much a part of the load management as the players are, because again, I think there’s been a societal shift. Everything’s about winning a championship these days and it’s less, I think in all sports, about how you perform day in and day out. And so it’s a cultural issue as well.
“There are a few things we’re addressing in collective bargaining, for example, I think we ensure that some of our awards require a minimum number of games to be played, that we’re celebrating not just average number of points, but total number of points, that the culture is guys being out on the floor as much as they can.”
The topic of players requesting trades also came up, in the wake of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leaving the Brooklyn Nets in a pair of blockbuster trades last week.
They are just two of several star players to change teams in recent years, something Silver said has been helped along by the league making changes to shorten contracts and encourage more player movement. He said that the one thing the league looks at when it comes to trade requests and player movement — both of which have existed for decades — is that players are honoring their contracts.
“There aren’t, again, any simple fixes here, or else we would have done it,” Silver said. “I think on the other hand, a certain amount of player movement, now, not focusing on demands, but this year, for example, in the week leading up to the trade deadline, something like 12% of the league changed teams. And that’s something that we were intentional about because we shortened contracts. We recognize that that ability for teams to rebuild, now it’s not just about players, but for teams to make changes in direction, and that’s healthy around the league.
“So again, it’s about finding the right balance around player movement. But trade demands are a bad thing. We don’t want them to happen, and we got to focus on that and make sure that everyone is honoring their agreements.”