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Thursday, April 12
Updated: April 14, 2:31 AM ET
Shooters rejoice, Shaq, Kobe and Vince, beware

By Peter May
Special to

Somewhere, we presume San Antonio, Steve Kerr is smiling. Dell Curry is thinking about another three years and he'll even do it for Canadian dollars. Manute Bol checked in from Africa to announce he's coming back at the age (we think) of 39. And the entire coaching staff of the three-point happy Boston Celtics has scratched off the 'new plays for 2000-2001' entry from its list of things to do in the off-season.
Shawn Bradley
If you've got a zone, you've got Shawn Bradley never leaving the basket to defend.

The NBA Board of Governors, bowing to pressure to fix what many feel is an unseemly, increasingly unwatchable product, has acted. It has rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. It has put a band-aid on a mortal wound.

Let me see if I have this straight. In order to increase fluidity and scoring, the NBA is actually now going to allow the already offensive-phobic coaches to have infinitely more, not less, choices on defense? That's like trying to increase scoring in football by allowing 14 defensive players on the field.

There's nothing wrong with the game that two changes wouldn't cure: stop allowing coaches to squeeze the life out of the shot clock and stop allowing callow, clueless kids to come into a league they think is all about dunking, chest-bumping, entourages and hi-tech cell phones. As Indiana coach Isiah Thomas rightly noted last week, "I don't think the game needs to be tweaked. I think the players need to be tweaked."

It's interesting how the NBA went about instituting what easily will be the most dramatic facelift to the game since the 24-second clock was instituted. Instead of going through the usual channels (the competition committee) Commissioner David Stern did an end run and called upon old chum Jerry Colangelo to form a committee. Colangelo then deliberately skirted the 29 teams and brought in individuals with lengthy resumes, almost all of whom are either retired or unemployed. OK, he had two players, but the work was really done by the likes of Wayne Embry, Jerry West, Dick Motta and Dr. Jack Ramsay.

"That way, there are no agendas," Colangelo said.

No one asked the general managers. No one went to the coaches and said, 'if you guys don't start fast-breaking, we're going to require that you sit in the stands during the games.' No one said, 'this is all frosting. Have you happened to notice that hardly anyone comes into the league these days with any idea how to play basketball? Have you happened to notice this rookie class?'

Trying to find someone other than Shawn Bradley or the aforementioned three-point specialists who think allowing a zone defense is a good thing is an exercise in futility. The estimable Stan Kasten, president of all things athletic in Atlanta, was planning to go along with the "recommendations" yesterday despite very serious misgivings.

"I have plenty of reservations that it will improve the flow of the game and improve scoring because typically the way to break a zone is with long-range shooting," Kasten said last week. "One thing we've learned, we don't need more perimeter shooting."
I have plenty of reservations that it will improve the flow of the game and improve scoring because typically the way to break a zone is with long-range shooting. One thing we've learned, we don't need more perimeter shooting.
Hawks president Stan Kasten

Do you think for a moment that Michael Jordan's tongue will still wag when he envisions being swarmed by three long-armed defenders and no one to pass to but Tyrone Nesby? (Then again, do you think his tongue would wag even if he had Nesby open alone under the basket?) Jordan already has come out against the zone defense, as has most every coach, general manager and player.

"It eliminates the marquee players," Jordan said recently when he wasn't denying rumors of a comeback. "If you play Vince Carter and Kobe (Bryant), Shaquille (O'Neal) you're going to zone them. One thing they want to eliminate is the isolation play. Isolation, in the past, always has been the flagship of where creativity has come from."

Or this from Rudy Tomjanovich, the coach of the 2000 Olympic Team:

"Zones neutralize great athletic ability," he said. "I don't think it would be good for the league as far as entertainment. People want to see the guys who can soar to the basket."

We know what the counter argument is and there is some merit to it. Yes, the illegal defense rules are close to incomprehensible and seemingly change from referee to referee. Yes, there have been more illegal defense violations this season (according to Embry) than there have ever been, which tells you coaches are playing a zone anyway.



But there's a zone and there's a Z-O-N-E. It's one thing to have someone too far away from his man in the paint. It's something quite different to institute a system in which Shaquille O'Neal will feel like a clothes tree. "Why would he want to play if three guys can surround him? It won't be any fun for him," suggested Jason Kidd.

If the Colangelo Committee wanted to create fluidity, it should have eliminated the three-point shot as well. Then teams would be forced to move the ball around, penetrate, screen and all those other, old-fashioned things out of 'Hoosiers.' Instead, what we're now going to see is pretty much what we've been seeing now -- dumping it in, swarming the ball, moving it around, and three-point shooting. Antoine Walker may never take another free throw again.

OK, it may not be the end of Western Civilization as we know it. If the NBA starts to morph into the college game, that won't necessarily mean a less exciting product. There are exciting college games every night, just ask Dick Vitale. Just get ready for a lot of 70-65 games. Hey, maybe Mike Fratello will even get another coaching gig.

But it's hard to envision how scoring will increase with lower percentage shots getting hoisted from the suburbs and stars getting covered in human tarps. You want to change the game, then deal with what's really wrong with the game -- the coaches, the missing fundamentals and a college-ravaging rookie wage scale which all but mandates that anyone who can hop or leap get onto the fast track and into the NBA.

That would take more than an ad hoc committee. That would take some courage and foresight. That would address what should be addressed. Yesterday, the owners instead opted for the old misdirection play. Good luck to them. They pay the bills.

Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to

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