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The NBA is adding a coaches’ challenge. It’s useless

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Shams Charania reports the NBA Board of Governors has voted to allow coaches to challenge plays next season. Details from Zach Lowe on the new rule from last month set out the parameters: coaches can challenge an on-court decision once per game, provided they have a timeout remaining. The plays that can be challenged: called fouls, goaltending, basket interference, and disputed out of bounds calls.

This basically matches the plays automatically eligible for official review in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or during overtime, with the exception of called fouls, which is certainly a wrinkle. To signal they want a review of a given play, coaches would immediately call a timeout and then give the NBA’s universal gesture for review: a carbon copy of the blessed “Swirl It” gesture from the Bob’s Burgers episode “Synchrosized Swimming.” I move that instead of calling the coaches’ review a challenge flag (borrowed from the NFL, which involves an actual flag in its challenge system), we call the NBA edition a “Swirl It.”

Anyway, this is wholly unnecessary. Giving coaches a single challenge for a whole game but then reviewing all close incidences of the reviewable behaviors (minus called fouls) during the most critical moments of the game shows just how insufficient the Swirl It will be to make the game infallible. In practice, chances are the Swirl It will be exclusively useful to attempt to reverse critical foul calls on important players. Draymond Green picks up a third foul in the first half on an iffy whistle? Swirl it. Paul George gets hit with Foul No. 4 on a close-call block-or-charge right after halftime? Swirl it. LeBron James picks up his fifth foul early with nine minutes left in the fourth? SwirHA! HA! HA! — LeBron picking up five fouls in a game? Yeah right. Not remotely believable.

Fouls are hugely subjective, and humans prefer not to admit they are wrong, so the odds of officials overturning their own foul calls on a regular basis seem meager. In all likelihood, this is a big waste of time. Let’s just acknowledge that there is no certainty but for the absence of certainty in the world and move on.

What’s a demand to a jefe?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called trade demands “disheartening” and indicated the league needs to do something about it. Pardon the semantics, but I’m having trouble parsing the phrase “trade demand” in these instances when the player asking out has little in the way of potential actions to force the team’s hand.

This is making me nostalgic for the Melodrama Warz of 2010, when intrepid take artists accused Carmelo Anthony of holding the Nuggets hostage because he ... wanted a trade and had some specific teams he’d agree to re-sign with as a free agent. Melo never actually held out or sabotaged the on-court play of the team in any way. But him expressing his preferences made the team (run by Masai Ujiri, by the way) the sympathetic figure.

The thing is that the NBA already has a backstop for true trade demands: teams can fine players who don’t fulfill their contract by not showing up to work. Anthony Davis showed up to work. Paul George was going to show up to work, even if his request to be traded was ignored by the Thunder. Thus, these aren’t really trade demands at all! These are trade requests, made with no intention or method of forcing the issue. These are, at best, leveraged trade pleas. But that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

There’s more to be said about this. In short, a reactionary response from the league wouldn’t be wise and would likely have opposite the intended effect.


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