Monty McCutchen Rumors
The NBA’s new vice president and head of referee development and training, McCutchen observes the Game 1 crew move with precision from end to end. McCutchen, after a 25-year career as one the league’s most highly-regarded game officials, is pleased with what he’s witnessing tonight. It isn’t merely that the calls are decisive and clean — with the world’s top players even, at times, raising their hands in acknowledgment that they’d committed a foul — it’s how they’re being made. “It’s not about the minutiae of the 100 percent accuracy,” McCutchen says in the second quarter. “I’m looking at our positioning. Our mind is given away by our body. If we are in dependable positions, then we’re adhering to our principles and this will lead to good work. Tonight, their bodies are showing that they’re in control of their minds. And if we’re in the right places, then I trust our judgment.”
One row up and 10 seats over, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations — and McCutchen’s boss — is similarly pleased as an exciting game with a razor-thin margin heads toward the midway point of the fourth quarter. Spruell, hired two summers ago, has presided over an initiative by the NBA to improve officiating. “This is the quality product of intense competition being played out by great players on the court and adjudicated by excellent referees,” Spruell would say the following morning. “That’s what you’re sitting there watching. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘We’re getting another clean game.’ And then what happened happened.”
By and large, according to the league, NBA officials get the vast majority of calls correct. An independent website examining data from the controversial “last two-minutes reports” determined that more than 92 percent of calls during that period are correct. Moreover, the league’s data shows that referees in this year’s playoffs, including Game 1 of the Finals, have an accuracy rate of 92.6 percent in the last two minutes and overtime when taking into account whistles and non-calls. “NBA officiating,” McCutchen says frequently, “is about excellence, not perfection.”
Several N.B.A. referees are fluent in Spanish, and the fourth-year official Gediminas Petraitis speaks Lithuanian, said Monty McCutchen, the N.B.A.’s vice president in charge of referee development and training. While the league does not currently offer foreign language courses for officials, he said, “this may very well be an area of growth we explore in the future.” Tomas Satoransky, a shooting guard for the Wizards who was born in Prague, is susceptible to what he described as “blackouts,” when he excoriates himself in Czech. Coach Scott Brooks has asked for translations. “And I’m like, ‘Coach, I don’t even know,’” Satoransky said.
All of this is happening in a season in which technical fouls are down significantly (the fewest in the past three seasons), and the NBA says its internal tracking shows little changes to the way games have been called in recent years. “There’s a narrative that has built up a life of its own,” said Monty McCutchen, who went from being the league’s highest-rated official to the head of referee training and development in another midseason move to deal with officiating concerns. “There’s part truth and part falsehood. To deny there aren’t problems is foolhardy and arrogant. We can’t live in a state of denial. We’re taking stock and seeing this as an opportunity for growth. But everyone, including the players and coaches, has to keep up their end of the communication bargain.”
The hope is this will allow at least some basis for improvement in the playoffs. “The conversations at the meetings have been great. People were able to voice their concerns in an environment that didn’t include competition,” McCutchen said. “I don’t think we’re off the rails. What we’ve tried to get across is that disagreeing with a call doesn’t mean a lack of poise. Poise is an important part of all of our jobs and we’re going to keep working to find that balance.”
Former referee Monty McCutchen, now an NBA vice president overseeing referee development and training, and NBA senior vice president Michelle Johnson met with clubs to listen to their perspective. McCutchen’s biggest hope is finding a way to make communication better, on all sides. He stressed to teams that he wasn’t meeting with them solely to defend and protect officials. “Our league needs strong officials,” McCutchen said. “What we’re trying to shoot for is this idea that you can have strength without arrogance and you can show humility without having to give into weakness. And that sort of Goldilocks moment, where the porridge is just right, is the balance in which we can start to disagree about the play without being demeaning or condescending or arrogant to one another.”