Five months before Adam Silver is elevated to his new role of NBA commissioner, nearly two months before the 2013-14 season begins, his agenda is being defined for him. The increasingly disturbing news about NBA players and coaches this summer is turning off-court conduct into a leadership priority, much as it was for Roger Goodell at the start of his tenure as NFL commissioner.
The latest news was the arrest of the Celtics' Jared Sullinger on charges of assault and battery Tuesday. This follows domestic violence charges against the Nuggets' Ty Lawson and the Thunder's DeAndre Liggins.
There also was the charge of driving under the influence against new Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Lamar Odom was charged with DUI after a flurry of stories alleging he was in a drug-use crisis. Then there was Michael Beasley's year, which managed to hit the entire trio: a moving violation, an investigation of alleged sexual assault, and an arrest for alleged marijuana possession.
The Suns waived Beasley on Tuesday, citing his conduct in a news release that candidly mentioned the reduced payments and increased salary-cap space for the Suns thanks to the stretch provision in the collective bargaining agreement. Rest assured, it was Beasley's inconsistent play that made him expendable and made the Suns' decision easier.
What can Silver do about players who can't be so easily dismissed by their teams? After all, you could argue that Goodell's conduct crackdown hasn't worked as a deterrent, and point to the continued stream of arrests culminating in the murder charge against Aaron Hernandez. But the NBA also can look at its own history and see how policy has come to affect heat-of-the-moment decisions by players.
Commissioner David Stern made the prevention of bench-clearing brawls a priority, particularly after the fan-endangering "Malice at the Palace" in 2004. Stern held firm to the edict that there would be mandatory one-game suspensions for players leaving the bench area during altercations, even if it meant suspending Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw from a 2007 playoff game for merely wandering down the sideline out of concern for a possibly injured teammate.
Taking that hard stance worked: In the six seasons since, there has been only one suspension for leaving the bench.
The problem is the league hasn't taken drunken-driving convictions more seriously, when the consequences can be exponentially worse. In recent years, DUI cases have resulted in a two-game suspension. If one game for straying onto the court seems too severe, then two games for a potentially fatal mistake is too light. Make it a minimum of 10 games, and see if players and coaches are quicker to hail a cab rather than sit behind the wheel when they're out drinking.
There should also be a minimum 10-game suspension for every domestic violence/sexual assault conviction. Key word: conviction. We've also seen instances where allegations were exaggerated or fabricated. The legal process should conclude before the NBA takes its stand.
Can we really expect the threat of NBA actions to take precedence in an enraged or intoxicated mind? You'd be surprised at what thoughts can come to the forefront even during the most emotional of times. I recently came across an old column I wrote for the Los Angeles Times in the wake of a melee between Latinos and African-Americans at Santa Monica High School.
None of the members of the baseball team got involved in the clash that resulted in 12 students being disciplined. One of the baseball players said the reason he didn't participate: "My main thing was the whole fear of being suspended or getting hurt and not being able to play ball."
If a teenager can have that much clarity, we should expect the same for an adult who could lose millions of dollars because of a suspension. At the very least, Silver should find out how effective a harsher penalty system can be.