The unsurprising result? The Lakers tampered. The unsurprising result? The league actually did something about it.
The NBA announced today that it has fined the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000 for violating the league’s anti-tampering rule. This action followed an independent investigation by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
The conduct at issue involved communications by Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka with the agent representing Paul George that constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract. The penalty reflected a previous warning issued by the NBA to the Lakers regarding tampering, following comments made by Lakers President of Basketball Operations Earvin Johnson about Paul George during an April 20 national television appearance.
The investigation did not reveal evidence of an agreement or understanding that the Lakers would sign or acquire Mr. George.
The NBA’s anti-tampering rule prohibits teams from interfering with other teams’ contractual relationships with NBA players, including by publicly expressing interest in a player who is currently under contract with another team or informing the agent of another team’s player of interest by one’s own team in that player.
The Lakers got off relatively clean.
Sure, the fine is large. The Timberwolves getting fined $3.5 million for an under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith is the only larger one I know of. (There have been other $500,000 fines – Heat owner Micky Arison for tweets during the lockout, Vladimir Radmanovic for injuring his shoulder while snowboarding, the Knicks and Nuggets each for their brawl, Joe Dumars for leaking confidential league memos and, of course, Mark Cuban for criticizing officiating.)
But that pales in comparison to the potential consequences the Lakers faced – losing draft picks and/or being prohibited from signing George. This fine will barely slow the operation. Other penalties could have.
Lakers president Magic Johnson was presumed to be at fault, because he had gotten the Lakers fined for tampering before (while still holding a ceremonial front-office title) and because he went on television to wink at George. But it was actually general manager Rob Pelinka, a former agent, caught red-handed. If his efforts help lure George from the Thunder, it will have been worth it.
The Buss family might miss the $500,000, but here’s the big story for everyone else: The Lakers are still in the thick of the Paul George sweepstakes and still have the picks they’d need to unload Luol Deng‘s and maybe Jordan Clarkson‘s contracts to clear cap space.