The NBA is investigating how free agency unfolded this summer after several teams lodged tampering complaints, according to ESPN — and the Nets could figure heavily in that investigation.
That’s because, before free agency opened at 6 p.m. on June 30, news already had broken that two of the league’s biggest stars — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — had agreed to deals to come to Brooklyn.
The NBA apparently has heard concerns from its owners and fielded inquiries from top agents over the past few weeks. At the league’s annual board of governors meetings this month in Las Vegas, concerns were raised about the copious amount of deals already done within hours of the start of free agency.
“It’s pointless, at the end of the day, to have rules that we can’t enforce,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during his annual news conference at Las Vegas Summer League.
With more than a billion dollars in contracts agreed to in the first 24 hours of free agency, it does strain credulity to think tampering rules weren’t violated. But historically those rules aren’t strictly enforced unless something is brazenly said in the open, or unless a team lodges a complaint. Those complaints are anonymous.
The Nets landing Irving had been a fait accompli long before free agency even started. The Post had been reporting that Irving, who grew up a New Jersey Nets fan in West Orange, N.J., was leaning toward signing with his childhood team.
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie — who played a huge role in artfully recruiting Irving to Brooklyn — told The Athletic this week that the All-Star told him in December that “New York is gonna be fun this time next year.”
News also surfaced before the start of free agency that Durant had picked the Nets, and he then announced his decision on Instagram. General manager Sean Marks claimed this month the Nets hadn’t met with Durant at that point and found out they were getting him the same way everybody else did: on social media.
Kemba Walker, meanwhile, was already in Boston to take Irving’s vacated point-guard spot and agree to a deal with the Celtics that had been reported days earlier. Most glaring was Kawhi Leonard’s ultimate flex move, orchestrating the Clippers’ trade for the Thunder’s Paul George despite George having just signed with Oklahoma City a year earlier.
“The one strong conviction I have is that we should not have rules that are not strictly enforced,” Silver said in Las Vegas. “And we know that’s the case right now.
“And whether that’s by virtue of practice, whether it’s because just the world around us has changed, whether it’s because players have power that they didn’t use to have … let’s step back, let’s reset, let’s talk to our players’ association about what system makes sense going forward.”
All this brought on an investigation. Though the scope and specific teams of that investigation are unclear, ESPN reported it will probably focus on some of those earliest-reported deals.
Teams aren’t allowed to tamper with players under contract with other clubs. Violators can be fined or stripped of draft picks. The NBA even can void contracts. The Lakers were fined $500,000 for contacting George’s agent in 2017. And following complaints from small-market teams, the league sent an anti-tampering memo after LeBron James publicly said in December he wanted to play with Anthony Davis, who eventually ended up traded to the Lakers.
But the rules aren’t strictly enforced. Teams are rarely sanctioned and players are punished even more infrequently.
While the letter of the law says players can’t tamper with each other or work together on transactions (at their team’s behest), the NBA essentially doesn’t punish them because it’s just too hard to police individual player conversations, like those between Dinwiddie and Irving.
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