A Daily Babble Production
This is not about whether Trevor Ariza and the Lakers are dirty.
As Jeff noted yesterday, we've had more than enough discussion of the 'D' word around here lately. My conceptualization of dirty play has to do with malicious intent. I'm not a psychoanalyst, and I don't profess to know what went through Treovr Ariza's head when he incited a mini-skirmish and sent an opponent to the hospital by knocking Rudy Fernandez to the floor on a fast break Monday night in Portland.
I'm also not sure it matters.
Here's what we do know: Fernandez was headed to the basket unimpeded. Ariza came up from behind, wound up with his right arm and took a swing. That swing caught the airborne Fernandez's head and knocked him to the floor. The video linked above demonstrates this beyond doubt with the replay that starts at the 1:20 mark.
Regardless of what Ariza was trying to hit - ball or head - that swing is the problem here.
I'm on the liberal side when it comes to allowing hard fouls without turning every collision into a flagrant or an ejection. The idea of working to prevent easy buckets makes sense. In a contact sport, there will be bruising sometimes, and that's okay.
Taking an out-of-control swing up around the area of someone's skull isn't. That's a dangerous play that goes beyond the bounds of simple contact. That isn't trying to get an arm up to contest a shot or merely make an innocent effort at a block. It's a low-percentage play with the chance to do serious damage if it hits the wrong target.
Not suspending Ariza for the foul on Monday night sends a simple message to the players: Taking a wind-up swing at another player as long as the ball is somewhere nearby will meet limited consequences. If a player manages to get the ball or miss entirely, great for him. If he happens to strike his opponent, he risks getting hit with a flagrant foul and possibly an ejection but little more than that. That's a fairly low-risk proposition for the swinger, particularly in a blowout in which his presence for the rest of the game may not be all that integral.
This isn't meant as advocacy of the NBA further softening how it permits its employees to play defense. But the idea of protecting players' heads isn't soft. As it was, Fernandez was fortunate to end up with only a soft tissue injury to his right upper chest area.
The league needs to encourage its players to think twice before taking reckless swings up high on others. Dirty or otherwise, the danger caused by Ariza's play far outweighed the potential reward of blocking the shot. Given Tuesday's ruling of no punishment, the current system leaves the victim at significant risk while failing to transfer said risk to the offender. That's a problem, and it's why Trevor Ariza's hit on Rudy Fernandez merited not only the flagrant 2 he received for unnecessary and excessive contact but a one-game suspension as well.
Meanwhile, over at Blazer's Edge, Dave makes a great analogy to the issue of helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL. My only disagreement comes at the end with Dave's assessment of the league upholding the flagrant as "good enough." As you may have noted above, I don't quite see it that way. As is typically the case with Dave and Ben's work over at the Edge, the piece is a great read and definitely worth your time.