Tampering with another team’s player is supposed to be serious, but all too often in the NBA there is more than subtle evidence something untoward has been going on. There have been fines in the past and in very rare cases even punishment teams care about, but far too often it’s hard to say the NBA does much of anything to discourage the practice.
In the case of the Lakers and superstar Paul George, the Indiana Pacers frustration was stretched to the breaking point and they laid a complaint that the NBA appears to be taking seriously.
As Bob Kravitz on WTHR reports, “the Pacers strongly believe they have the Lakers dead to rights.”
Pacers owner Herb Simon, general manager Kevin Pritchard and some other Pacers’ officials watched the Magic Johnson yuk-it-up interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in April, and they were incensed.
It’s understood, everybody tampers, at least a little bit. Again, those July 1 free-agent signings do not happen in an information vacuum. Conversations are had. Texts are exchanged. It happens.
This, though, is different. This, if proven, is egregious.
“We can say hi because we know each other,” Johnson replied. “I just can’t say, ‘Hey, we want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’m gonna be wink-winking. You know what that means, right?”
And this was just the public side of the alleged tampering.
For weeks, even months, the Pacers had heard whispers that the Los Angeles Lakers had been making contact with Paul George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, and George’s parents.
The NBA shouldn’t even tolerate the violation of their tampering rules days ahead of a player about to enter free agency on July 1st. The playing field is supposed to be level.
However, George was under contract for another entire season when the Pacers believe the Lakers were trying to tilt the playing field to their advantage when it comes to acquiring George in 2018. The widespread belief that George wanted to go to the Lakers and the Lakers wanted him to be there undoubtedly impacted his trade value.
Suffice to say, the Pacers are angry, having lost their franchise player for dimes on the dollar.
Tampering makes it easy for super teams to be put together. There were unsubstantiated whispers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh couldn’t have put that super team together on their own, although they did a superb job of putting on a show in free agency and this is hardly the only example.
Rumors come out about most high profile NBA players and it’s a time honored tradition in business circles, not just in pro sports, for agents, owners and management to leak information designed to “stir the pot” or move things in a particular direction if not more than this.
a couple of days before the start of free agency, which is not allowed but generally accepted as the coin of the realm. … But the league chooses to accept, or at least turn a blind eye to, that sort of thing.
The NBA shouldn’t turn a blind eye at any time and the tradition of fines for anything but the worst of offenses is not slowing down the problem.
If a level playing field is a real objective of the NBA, the burden of proof can’t be held to a standard that is so high as to be almost impossible to prove as described by Bobby Marks of ESPN.
Unless there is a paper trail, like in the case of the Timberwolves and Joe Smith, a fine is usually the penalty if the team is found to have done something negligent.
The Pacers have a right to be upset and on the surface, the Lakers look guilty. The NBA is doing an appropriate investigation, but if they find evidence of tampering beyond the very inappropriate comments of Magic on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, they need to come down hard. A fine is not enough.
However, the Paul George situation is just a potentially egregious case. The bigger issue is the “wink-winking” behind the scenes interference Magic admits is going on and the outright “stir-the-pot” moves by agents and teams that so often surface as “leaks” after the fact.
If the NBA truly wants a level playing field, tampering needs to be investigated like a civil court case where things are judged on a balance of probability/ who do you believe basis. Severe punishments shouldn’t be restricted to the paper trail or beyond a reasonable doubt criminal standard.
At this point it’s almost hard to believe the NBA investigation into the George case won’t turn up at least some evidence of tampering and if they do, it seems the only appropriate way to deal with it is to bar the Lakers from acquiring George for at least three years. It’s past time to send a strong message to the entire league that this has got to stop.