It’s one of the subtle ways teams are allowed to communicate, indirectly obviously, with free agents before July 1. Of course, teams can use impermissible methods, too.
But there’s also another way Houston is getting its message to Howard: Chandler Parsons.
Parsons, however, added a separate thought for Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, the Rockets’ primary free-agent target.“After watching that last night,” Parsons said, “I hit him with, ‘Come to Houston. That could be us.’ ”That wasn’t anything new for Howard. He has heard plenty from Parsons this offseason.“I talk to Dwight every day,” Parsons said. “I’ve created a relationship with him, where I feel like we’re very close. He hits me up about everything. I’ve covered pretty much every question he’s had. I basically tell him, ‘We have a chance to be really good without you next year. We’re going to have a good season. Why not come and join us, join our core guys who are for sure to be here and make us great, make us contend for a championship?’“That’s the main point I’ve gotten from talking to him. He wants to win. He wants to win rings. It’s obvious there is no better fit, no better team or opportunity to do that than with us.”
Is this tampering? According to Larry Coon’s definition, it sure sounds like it:
Tampering is when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody (player, general manager, etc.) who is under contract with another team in order to negotiate for their services.
The most famous recent case of a player being accused of tampering is when Dwyane Wade said he planned to talk to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson before free agency began in 2010. At the time, the NBA ruled that wasn’t tampering, as explained by NBA Vice President Tim Frank:
“We understand that players talk and interact with each other all the time and there’s no real way to regulate that,” he said. “We therefore reserve discipline only for the most egregious player tampering cases.”
Here’s how the Wade-LeBron-Bosh-Johnson meeting was described at the time by Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune:
The Cavaliers’ LeBron James, the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and the Hawks’ Joe Johnson plan to discuss their respective plans with each other before making a decision once free agency begins July 1, Wade told the Tribune on Wednesday.
Perhaps Wade used that meeting to pitch Miami to those other stars, but there’s no public evidence he did that. It sounds like it could have just been a meeting of the minds, a forum to discuss the complex factors they were weighing in their shared situation.
This Parsons case is different. He’s obviously stumping on behalf of a specific team.
Is it different enough to warrant a fine? I have no idea.
This all gets back to the point I’ve already repeated here many times: Tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. If the NBA wants to punish Parsons or the Rockets, it will. If the league doesn’t, it won’t.
Trying to identify a consistent standard is futile, because one doesn’t exist.