NEW YORK -- As Monty McCutchen visits NBA teams on behalf of referees, he's hearing plenty of what he calls constructive criticism, delivered in a professional way.
"That's exactly what we're hoping to attain on the floor, is that no one is asking everyone to agree, no one is asking for there not to be constructive criticism," McCutchen said. "What we are trying to achieve is the sense of how to disagree respectively, how to disagree with an empathy and understanding."
McCutchen left his job on the floor this season to become the league's vice president and head of referee development and training. With some high tensions with both players and coaches, he and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson have been conducting respect-for-the-game sessions with each team in hopes of creating a stronger working relationship.
He believes the meetings are going well, that players are seeing the commitment of the officials to have better communication.
Though some players have complained that referees won't engage in discussions with them on the court, McCutchen doesn't believe relations have worsened this season, echoing comments made by commissioner Adam Silver at the All-Star break. Yet it seems otherwise sometimes, with coaches Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy and Alvin Gentry all fined by the league over the past week for criticizing officials.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, whose team was visited by McCutchen before playing the New York Knicks last week, said the respected referee can make things better, calling him a great ambassador and teacher.
"You could argue he was the top official in the game, but the job that he has taken on is a very important one because now he has a chance to impact so many other officials," Carlisle said. "And the other reason that he is a great person for this position is he's a great communicator. Always has been. He can carry the message to officials, he can help convey the message to players and coaches of the importance of constructive communication, how to diffuse the emotion in difficult situations."
Representatives of players and officials met during the All-Star break and McCutchen has taken the lead from there for the officiating side. Like with any relationship that has struggled, he said repairs start with better communication.
He praised veteran players who have spoken up in the sessions on behalf of their clubs, and believes the discussions will pay off, even if it isn't easy to see that right away.
"What I am sure of is that we are willing to do our work," McCutchen said. "We are willing to re-examine how we can better the game that we serve, and from that perspective the players' commentary has received a reasonable ear from us. We hear you and we'll work on it."