In the 2012-13 NBA season, 19 players were suspended by the NBA or their respective teams for a total of 48 games. This coincided with the NBA's increased efforts to clean up the league's perceived "image problem" that has plagued it since the second retirement of Michael Jordan in 1998. No one in the league's upper crust will ever forget Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) and Stephen Jackson throwing haymakers at fans in the Malice at the Palace in Detroit in 2004 or the Wild West showdown between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in the Wizards' locker room in 2009. Nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games after the Pistons' and Pacers' brawl, and Arenas and Crittenton were suspended for a total of 88 games for their gun play. As a result, fantasy owners must now be aware of the NBA's stiff upper lip when it comes to its suspension policy for a multitude of transgressions.
While it's nearly impossible to stand here and predict whether another Malice at the Palace will happen again, what this column hopes to do is shed light on are the reasons players can be suspended under league rules and the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), as well as identify which players may be at the highest risk for missing games in the upcoming 2013-14 NBA season.
Terrel Harris, Portland Trail Blazers
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
Under the Anti-Drug Program outlined in Article XXXIII of the CBA, players can be randomly tested for "prohibited substances," including performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and recreational drugs such as marijuana. In the case of PEDs, a first positive test will result in a 20-game suspension; a second positive test will incur a 45-game suspension; and a third positive test will result in a lifetime ban. Last season, Hedo Turkoglu made news as the first NBA player to be handed a 20-game suspension for a positive test. Turkoglu proclaimed his innocence and served his suspension, but it appears that Turkoglu will be spending this coming season playing in Europe with numerous reports surfacing of a negotiated buyout with the Magic merely being a matter of time.
Smith and Harris, however, will each be suspended for the first five games of the 2013 season for a reported violation of the league's anti-drug policy. Harris may be a fantasy afterthought but Smith is a key component to Knicks' championship hopes. Under the terms of the CBA, players who test positive for marijuana use suffer a different set of discipline from those testing positive for PEDs or even "hard drugs," such as cocaine. Under the CBA's marijuana policy, a player is not suspended until his third positive test, which results in an automatic five-game suspension. Any subsequent violation will result in a suspension that is five games longer than the player's immediately-preceding suspension. Although privacy rules forbid the NBA releasing its drug-testing results, the five-game suspension is a telltale sign of a third positive test, and both Smith and Harris must be careful to avoid a fourth violation, or they will face an additional 10 games rooted to the bench.
Conduct Detrimental to the Team/League
Under the CBA, the NBA commissioner has the power to hand down disciplinary actions (either suspension or fines less than $50,000) on players for on-court incidents; conduct that does not conform to standards of fair play; conduct that does not comply to federal or state laws; and conduct that is detrimental to the game of basketball or the league. Additionally, the standard NBA player's contract contains a "Conduct" clause in which the player agrees, "not to do anything that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of the Team or the League." This clause allows a team to terminate a player's contract if the player's conduct and actions do not comport with the team's material interests and standards of "honesty, citizenship, and sportsmanship." Teams have also used this clause to impose punishment for player transgressions. Generally, if a player engages in nebulous "conduct detrimental to the team," he can be fined or suspended at the team's discretion, though penalties imposed by a team may be appealed to the league's grievance arbitrator if the financial impact (from a fine and/or lost salary due to a suspension) is $50,000 or greater.
A quick review of suspensions for such detrimental conduct shows that most result in a mere one or two game leave of absence for the guilty player. Last season alone, for example, DeMarcus Cousins was suspended for two games by the NBA for a post-game verbal confrontation with Spurs' color commentator Sean Elliott, and a month later, he received an "indefinite" suspension (which would only span one game) from the Kings "for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team." Meanwhile, Dallas suspended and subsequently waived troubled guard Delonte West for his conduct during the preseason. Previously, the NBA suspended West for the first 10 games of the 2010-11 season after he pled guilty to weapons charges. A number of other players were suspended for various detrimental conduct or violations of team policy during the 2012-13 season – Josh Smith, Samuel Dalembert, Carmelo Anthony, Royce White, and Rajon Rondo - and each could potentially face stiffer penalties for further transgressions as the league and their respective teams grow increasingly wary of indecorous antics.
The current climate of professional sports is fogged by performance-enhancing drugs. It's a constant concern in football and a huge problem in baseball. Yet, the NBA has avoided falling into PED Hell, as it has remained fairly immune from the stigma of PEDs. Still, it's somewhat startling that the NBA didn't take the Biogenesis scandal more seriously. Incoming commissioner Adam Silver dismissed any link to Biogenesis, despite reports indicating that NBA players were on the same list that doomed Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and many a fantasy baseball team.
One reason why the league can breathe a sigh of relief is a broader drug policy than that which exists in baseball. As noted above, the NBA can swiftly suspend players for positive tests under its random drug testing program. But the league's anti-drug program has provisions that don't require a failed test to initiate the discipline process. Beyond the six random, unannounced tests during each season and offseason to which each player is subject, tests can be administered at any time based on "reasonable cause," which allows for testing if the "Players Association or NBA has information that gives it reasonable cause to believe that a player is engaged in the use, possession, or distribution of a Prohibited Substance." Where the league has reason to suspect illicit drug use from one of its players - such as a name that may appear on the Biogenesis documents - the league can target that player for additional testing.
Also, the policy allows for evidence coming from outside sources, such as Biogenesis' trail of texts and electronic messages. A summary of the NBA's program includes the following:
If the NBA obtains evidence of a player's use, possession or distribution of a Prohibited Substance, it can take that evidence to a neutral arbitrator. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed a Drug of Abuse, or has distributed any Prohibited Substance, he will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed Marijuana or a PED, such a finding is considered a violation under the Program and the player will be subject to the same penalties imposed for a positive drug test.