NEW YORK -- NBA owners approved a package of four rules changes Thursday, including the elimination of the long-standing ban on zone defenses.
''This is a bold move on the part of the NBA to change the rules and allow something that we've spent many years hiding from -- zone defenses,'' Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said. ''This may be one of the most significant changes since the imposition of the 24-second shot clock.''
Designed to improve the flow and pace of the game and reduce teams' dependance on isolation plays, the new rules will be tested during summer league play before officially taking effect next season.
The changes are:
Eliminating all existing illegal defense guidelines.
Establishing a defensive 3-second rule, limiting the amount of time a defensive player may stand in the lane when he is not closely guarding someone.
Reducing from 10 seconds to 8 seconds the amount of time a team will have to advance the ball past midcourt.
Eliminating touch fouls by allowing brief contact initiated by a defensive player if it does not impede the progress of the player with the ball.
The NBA did not release the result of the vote. A two-thirds majority was required for passage, meaning at least 20 of the 29 teams were in favor.
''We had more than 20,'' Colangelo said.
Several players and coaches are opposed to the changes, believing the NBA is making too big of a move in response to lower scores, declining television ratings and flat attendance figures.
Shaquille O'Neal had a one-word response.
''Stinks,'' the Los Angeles Lakers star said. ''I have a lot to say, but not now.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson thinks the changes will help O'Neal.
''I think it'll be an advantage for Shaq, definitely, defensively,'' Jackson said. ''It's going to keep him around the basket with a lot less movement.
''We're going to have a zone, everyone's going to have one in their arsenal. It'll be good for basketball.''
Colangelo chaired the select committee that proposed the changes.
''Our belief is that the game has evolved, and the product we have presently was one that needed attention,'' Colangelo said ''The game has changed in the sense that we've lost a lot of fluidity. We've evolved into an isolation game because of our defensive guidelines, and we weren't satisfied with the way the game looked.''
The current illegal defense rules will be scrapped, and teams will be allowed to play any defense they choose.
The one exception is that a defensive player will not be permitted to stay in the lane for more than 3 seconds if he is more than an arm's length away from his man. A violation will result in a technical foul.
''That will prevent and out-and-out zone from being played in the pure sense,'' Colangelo said. ''There's going to be a lot more man-to-man defense than people think.''
The 8-second rule is designed to entice teams to pressure the ball in the backcourt, which will theoretically produce more open-court action and encourage teams to push the ball upcourt.
''The only question I have, and this was my suggestion, is to start the 24-second clock when you cross halfcourt,'' Jackson said. ''I think you should have a little time to explore the defense.''
The modification of the touch foul rule is designed to put an end to the type of ticky-tack fouls that have become commonplace since the league banned hand-checking two years ago. Next season, defenders will once again be allowed to place their hand on the man they are guarding as long as it does not impede the offensive player's movement.
''I don't think there will be more scoring; I think there will be less,'' Orlando coach Doc Rivers said.
Colangelo said the league will be willing to make adjustments to the new rules, if necessary, after they have been implemented.
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