Mark Cuban cries foul on proposed change to rules

ByTom Haberstroh ESPN logo
Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says the "hack-a-player" strategy is entertaining for fans and that it would be a mistake if the league made changes to the rules.

On Friday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today Sports that he was "increasingly of the view" that the league will implement new rules this summer to prevent intentional fouling of poor free throw shooters.

"At the end of the day," Silver said, "we are an entertainment property, and it's clear when you're in the arena that fans are looking at me shrugging their shoulders with that look saying, 'Aren't you going to do something about this?'"

Cuban disagrees with the notion that it is hurting the game's entertainment value and told on Saturday morning that he believes fans actually feel more part of the game in hack-a-player situations, citing the example of fans getting on their feet to challenge an opposing player at the free throw line.

Cuban also said hacking adds an element of intrigue.

"Will they leave him in or leave him out?" Cuban said. "How do both teams feel about it? How will they foul? Is it a new creative way, or is it just chasing?"

The hack-a-player strategy has been on the rise around the league. As of Friday, according to tracking by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton, there had been 266 hack-a-player instances this season, already far exceeding last season's total of 164. There were 52 instances through the All-Star break last season, and the NBA has surpassed that total by more than 200 ahead of next week's All-Star Weekend in Toronto.

The majority of intentional fouls have come against tall, poor free throw shooting big men such as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Cuban said hack-a-player strategies offer a teachable moment for fans and young athletes, especially parents who could spend time "watching the shots and telling your kids why practice matters and how amazing it is that they can do something that an NBA player can't.

"Will a 7-foot man try to run and escape a foul so he doesn't have to do what so many 12-year-olds do in games every day?" Cuban added.

Silver has seemingly changed his position since he told ESPN in October that "a guy's got to be able to make his free throws." On Friday, Silver said sending poor free throw shooters to the line on purpose hurts the game, even if coaches believe it helps their chances of winning.

"I'm increasingly of the view that we will be looking to make some sort of change in that rule this summer," Silver told USA Today Sports. "Even for those who had not wanted to make the change, we're being forced to that position just based on these sophisticated coaches understandably using every tactic available to them. It's just not the way we want to see the game played."

Drummond was intentionally fouled 21 times and set an NBA record when he missed 23 free throws -- out of 36 attempts -- in a victory against the Rockets on Jan. 21. A week later, Philadelphia 76ers forwardNerlens Noel hopped on Drummond's back -- piggyback style -- during a teammate's free throw attempt. Clippers guardJ.J. Redick also jumped on Drummond's back earlier this season.

"Clearly that's not a natural basketball move," Silver told USA Today. "That's something that, in my view, we need to address quickly because ultimately there's nothing more important than the health and safety of our players. Again, I think that's an accident waiting to happen with guys jumping on each other's shoulders just trying to attract officials' attention to call a foul."

It's unclear whether the majority of players want a rule change. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James said he doesn't think the rules should be changed.

"At the end of the day, it's a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win," James said. "If that's a part of the game and you have a guy that is a bad free throw shooter and you put him on the line, that's a part of strategy. That's no different from a guy that can't shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It's all part of strategy."

Cuban argues that the chess match of hack-a-player makes the game more fascinating for fans.

"Does he make the free throws?" Cuban said. "If he makes one or two, will they do it again? Did the strategy work?"

Cuban contends that the league might be overreacting to a small minority of "basketball purists" outside the media.

"We have to realize that the number of basketball purists that aren't in the media is probably under 1,000 people globally," Cuban said. "There is no special basketball beauty in walking the ball up the court and dribbling around the perimeter. Will we change that too?"

Information fromESPN staff writer Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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