The Denver Nuggets Irk the Los Angeles Lakers with Technological Audacity

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterMay 10, 2012

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Getty Images

On Wednesday, Dan Devine of Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie keenly keyed in on what could ultimately have been a throwaway bit in one of the first round's more intriguing series. 

As part of his game story, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times made brief note of one of the Los Angeles Lakers' very specific objections to the tactics and process of their opponent:The Lakers were privately seething after seeing the Nuggets use a laptop computer in their huddle during a 20-second timeout with 19.9 seconds left to play. 

The computer apparently belonged to an assistant coach sitting behind the bench with it. NBA rules forbid the use of such devices in the huddle, which won't change the final score but can carry a hefty fine of up to $250,000. There was apparently a bit of a misunderstanding; not only does the origin of that $250,000 figure -- as Devine later noted -- come from fairly hazy origins, but it turns out that the Nuggets' use of a laptop to review the Lakers' late-game sets fell well within league rules, per Nuggets head coach George Karl (via Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post):

"We have all of their end-of-game plays on a laptop," Karl said. "Now, we didn't use it last night. But you're allowed to have a laptop, according to what our memo said. You're allowed to bring scouting preparation information on a laptop."

According to Karl, a memo from the NBA stated teams can use laptops, and can have them on the bench, just as long as the material on it isn't taken from the game in-progress.

"It can't be of the game," Karl said. "Now, the memo I read was, 'yes you can have it on the bench.' We looked at the memo again this morning and it says just as long as you don't have anything taken from during the game. And the only thing we have is their plays, end of game situations."

At the risk of suggesting that this approach is more novel than it actually is (a claim that would be fairly difficult to assess without a detailed understanding of 30 different coaching staffs), I'll nonetheless offer that having the capacity for video and animated play diagramming in huddle situations is incredibly valuable. Timeouts offer precious little time, but provided that an assistant coach could have his information on the ready for the next stoppage in play, he could easily pull a player aside for a quick visual demonstration of where the pick-and-roll defense broke down, how the opponent found openings in the previous game, or how that player has been guarded in certain situations.

There's a ton of potential there, and kudos to the Nuggets for understanding the rule, keeping their players informed, and utilizing technology to what sounds like great effect. My only issue with this story: Why doesn't the league allow teams to access information and video on a game currently in progress? Based on Karl's explanation, teams aren't allowed to use digitized material taken from the game they're currently playing in, which seems like an unnecessary capping of technological utility.

If teams want to invest in the means to stream and clip video of their current game into a usable form for their staff, they should be able to do so. Likewise, if teams want to dedicate an employee -- whether coach, consultant, or whoever -- to charting data in-game for a more precise statistical snapshot, I fail to see the harm.

There are many ways that well-run teams can utilize analytics and technology to give themselves a leg up on their competition, and rightfully so; creativity should be rewarded as it is in any industry, and yet NBA teams seem to be restricted in this case merely for the sake of being restricted. Perhaps there's a more logical reason as to why the Nuggets and the other tech-savvy teams in the league aren't allowed to marry on-the-job coaching with technological aids, but for the moment, that aspect of the league's policy seems a bit curious.