But the NBA could still improve the system, especially the tampering problem
One recurring challenge for the NBA is the enforceability of its anti-tampering rule. The rule is expressed in two versions, one of which is found in Articles 35 of the league constitution and the other in Article 35A. The rule applies to coaches, general managers, governors and players—yes, players—but not agents, since they are licensed by the NBPA and are not employed by either the league or a team. The rule prohibits any attempt to entice, induce or persuade a person who is under contract with another team to join a team that would benefit from the tampering.
As I detailed earlier this week, a number of NBA franchises blatantly disregarded free agency timing rules prior to June 30. They did so by contacting and negotiating with players and their representatives before agreed-upon start times. The teams, in other words, tampered. It does not appear that any will be sanctioned by fines or forfeiture of draft picks, nor will their free-agent signings be voided.
Tampering also appears to have played a role in the Clippers’ successful recruitment of Leonard and George. In May, the NBA fined the Clippers $50,000 after Rivers joined Magic Johnson, Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon in an ESPN panel discussion on the NBA finals. Rivers, who years ago was a commentator for Turner Sports and ABC Sports, spoke effusively about Leonard. Rivers went so far as to say, “Kawhi is the most like Jordan we've seen."
The NBA objected to Rivers, an executive on a team that hoped to sign Leonard away from the Raptors, flatteringly comparing Leonard to the greatest basketball player of all-time. It’s not clear if the remark played a factor in Leonard’s decision, but media reports indicate that Leonard was at least partly moved to sign with the Clippers due to a desire to play for Rivers. If that desire was enhanced by Rivers comparing Leonard to Jordan, Steve Ballmer—who is reportedly worth north of $50 billion—would surely regard the $50,000 fine as a wise investment.
It also appears that Leonard committed tampering in his quest to form a two-superstar team with George. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard and George met in Los Angeles earlier this week. Leonard then made it clear to the Clippers that he would only sign if the Clippers acquired George from the Thunder.
Given this sequence of events, it’s implausible to believe that Leonard and George didn’t discuss the possibility of the two playing for the Clippers and how to make that happen. If Leonard induced George, who was under contract to the Thunder, to join him on the Clippers, Leonard would have tampered.
The same would be true if LeBron James had urged Anthony Davis to force the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him to the Lakers, but not if Rich Paul—who as an agent is licensed by the NBPA, not the NBA—urged Davis, one of his clients, to join James, another of Paul’s clients, in Los Angeles.
The NBA has never publicly punished a player for tampering and has seldom taken steps to enforce the anti-tampering rule. Players openly recruit one another during the All-Star game and post photos of each other in different uniforms on Instagram. In 1999, the league at least contemplated punishing a player for tampering. Then-NBA commissioner David Stern publicly reprimanded Chicago Bulls center Will Perdue for comments about the possibility of Tim Duncan leaving the Spurs for the Bulls.
Edited by Victoria Watcher, 06 July 2019 - 06:52 PM.