No time to be timid on flopping

David Stern opened the Finals with a press conference that was scathing on the topic of flopping, saying:

"Flopping" almost doesn't do it justice. Trickery. Deceit. Designed to cause the game to be decided other than on its merits. We'll be looking at that.

We'll be looking at a number of things that make it easier for us to say to our fans what we all know to be true: our referees want to get everything right.

Instant replay and elimination of tricks that are designed either to fool the ref, or if you don't fool the ref, to make the fans think that the refs made a bad call by not calling it, that shouldn't have a place in our game.

A few days later he met with his new, more nimble, seven-member competition committee. Sources say he had disbanded the old one, made of 30 general managers or their designees, because they didn't get enough done and now was a time for action on flopping and a number of other topics.

True to form, a few days later, after just one meeting, the group had proposed all kinds of changes, including a new points system to penalize floppers based on video review.

"I think it's something that's been building," said Stern said on TrueHoop TV. "It just seemed time to say okay, let's begin to move it out of our game. ... it's time to squeeze it out of our game."

Despite reports to the contrary, however, Stern lacks dictatorial powers. Banning flopping would take more than a snap of his fingers. Instituting a new video review system requires approval of the Board of Governors -- essentially, the owners. They met Thursday in Las Vegas, with flopping on the agenda.

No matter how nimble the competition committee, or urgent and scathing the commissioner's remarks, the owners move at their own pace. While flopping was discussed at Thursday's meeting, it did not come up for a vote, and therefore more action is needed before anything will be different on the court. The owners approved only the most timid of the committee's various recommendations, mostly concerning instant replay.

It's still possible new rules will be in place for next season. The board can vote remotely on rule changes at any time, or at their next meeting in September. But for now, the status quo is the status quo. Referees can do nothing about flopping, even when they know it is happening.

There are many imperfect outcomes to this flopping debate, and plenty of analysts suggest that any system will leave many flops unpunished. But any system built on video review would at least punish the most obvious flops, and would thus be far superior to what happens now, where nightly whoppers are very often not only unpunished, but rewarded.

Video is the key -- what is and is not a flop is very tough to identify in real time. Nobody wants to stop a game to review every questionable call. But what's absurd now is that even when the game is stopped, and even when the video is reviewed and the flop is obvious, even then nothing is done.

Consider the case of this classic of the genre from Reggie Evans.

With 1:40 left in a close game against the Hornets, the Clipper forward hit the deck hard, after marginal contact, tricking the referees into a Flagrant 2 on Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez. The referees went to the sideline to watch the video, witnessed the ridiculousness of what really happened, and ... didn't punish Evans at all. In fact, they maintained a foul on Vasquez, but downgraded it to a personal foul instead of a flagrant.

Evans was caught red-handed doing something that emits steam from the commissioner's ears, something that does no good to the reputation of the players, referees or league, and even after a video review the result was: Have some crunch-time free throws, Reggie, to pad your team's lead. He hit one of two, the Clippers won going away.

The ball is in the owners' court to do something.

Although there is one meaningful way some flops, including that Evans play, could be addressed, however -- even if the owners continue to hold things up.

At a minimum, referees ought to enforce a forgotten part of the existing NBA rule book. "To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball," it reads, in a section discussing unsportsmanlike play. "It consists of acts of deceit, disrespect of officials and profanity. The penalty for such action is a technical foul. Repeated acts shall result in expulsion from the game and a minimum fine of $1000."

"Deceit" is the issue in flopping, and the very first example in this list of unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty is a technical. That's a start.