Getty Images

Current, former NBA GMs say tampering is commonplace

3 Comments

Sort of like speeding down an almost empty midwestern freeway, tampering in the NBA is something everybody does. The goal is just not to get caught.

The Lakers, specifically GM Rob Pelinka, got caught and paid a hefty $500,000 fine for it (although it could have been worse, the NBA said there was no deal between the sides, at which point they could have blocked George coming to the Lakers).

The incident put a spotlight on tampering in the NBA, which is something everybody does. Everybody. Look at what current and former executives told Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report.

“If you’re not cheating by the letter of the law,” says one former GM, “you’re not trying.”

Adds a current Eastern Conference GM: “You don’t get free agents without it. [Tampering] is what the whole league is built on. That’s the only way you can get anything done….

“If you’re an agent and you wait until July 1 to find out what your client’s options are, you’re going to get fired. You’ll be sitting there while your client’s options are falling off the table.”

Ever notice that at 12:01 Eastern on July 1, a minute after NBA free agency has begun, deals are announced. The only way that happens is with tampering. The two sides — the team and the player’s agent — have worked out the deal before free agency opened, they just couldn’t announce it yet.

Teams put out feelers and ask to see if there is interest in Player X coming to their franchise, if it is worth even pursuing. If it is, the sides get a sense of what the other is looking at concerning finances just to make sure they are in the ballpark. That way when July 1 rolls around, teams have an idea where to focus their resources.

Of course Pelinka wanted Paul George‘s agent to know his team was interested — you think the Lakers are the only team to do that? If so, you’ve also probably given money to help that poor Nigerian prince. The only difference is everyone around the league knows George has his eyes on L.A., the Magic Johnson interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live ticked off the Pacers owner, the Pacers then asked for an investigation, and Rob Pelinka left enough of a trail he got caught. However, if you don’t think Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has tampered, well, again, that Nigerian prince thanks you for your help.

There should be a broader discussion of if tampering is even something worth enforcing in the modern NBA. Right now it works about as well as stopping speeding on the highways of America. The Lakers let George’s agent know they were interested when he becomes a free agent next summer — so what? Was this news worthy of a fine? Now, if the two sides worked out a deal that involved off-the-books compensation in keeping a salary down — the Joe Smith/Timberwolves case — that’s different (and Bucher’s report says that still goes on to a degree). But the Lakers could have had Julius Randle, who shares an agent with George, go to him and recruit him and the league is good with that, the NBA league office will not stop player-to-player recruiting. Assistant coaches on Team USA are head coaches in the NBA who get to build relationships with the game’s elite with the NBA’s full approval. The line is fuzzy, poorly enforced, and seems an issue of times gone by.

The Lakers former GM, Mitch Kupchak, notoriously played by the rules and didn’t contact agents until July 1. How did that work with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant — Kupchak’s Lakers were starting weeks behind everyone else in the process. Pelinka was playing the game, he just got caught.

And this Lakers’ fine isn’t going to stop anyone from tampering, just like that ticket doesn’t stop speeding.

 

 

Paul George on trade to Thunder: “I took it as it was a kick in the behind”

Associated Press
2 Comments

Paul George and Russell Westbrook — now with Carmelo Anthony — form one of the more interesting teams in the NBA in Oklahoma City. Deep with quality role players and a defense that should be top 10 (if not top 5) in the league, if the three big names can learn to sacrifice and mesh, the Thunder will be dangerous.

Paul George sounds motivated to take it all on… which he should be the first day of training camp. Still, it’s a good sign for Thunder fans.

George opened up to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a lengthy interview at the start of camp, and among the topics he discussed was the trade to OKC (after George’s camp told Indiana he would test free agency next summer). Did getting sent to the Thunder motivate him?

“I took it as it was a kick in the behind, like, ‘Go ahead and go try to beat the Warriors. Go play alongside Russ and get your butt kicked against the Warriors.’ That’s how I looked at how that trade went down, because honestly we had no idea OKC was even interested or was in the trade until the trade actually happened. But again, I’m not here to trash Indiana. They have some of the best people I’ve ever met in their front office and in that organization. I grew up there. I could go on and on (with) the positives in Indiana, but that’s where my thought process and my – that’s where I, I guess, my opportunity to leave had opened up.”

There was some “go ahead and beat the Warriors” in that trade — it looks, from the outside, like the Pacers did not want George to land anywhere he wanted to go.

Thing is, as human beings, we by our nature try to make the best of situations. Even people who suffer genuine personal tragedies often come out the other side saying that it changed who they were for the better and they are happy with their new life. This is just basketball. George will adapt — and he’s on a very good team. If the bar is “can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a series” then the Thunder will fall short, as will every other team. But the Thunder are on that next tier in the NBA and could be a threat.

Plus, competitors like George always look at a trade as a challenge.

It’s going to be a fascinating season for the Thunder. We’ll see if all that talent is willing to make the sacrifices needed to win at the highest levels of the NBA.

When will Zach LaVine return to court for Bulls? Think Thanksgiving.

Getty Images
1 Comment

When the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler — finally making a decision on the franchise’s direction — one of the centerpieces they got back from Minnesota was Zach LaVine. The wildly athletic two-guard had evolved into more than just a dunker, averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting 38 percent from three — he had become a legitimate scoring threat against any defense.

Then he blew out his ACL.

How that injury impacts his game remains to be seen… so when will the Bulls see him on the court? Coach Fred Hoiberg addressed that as Chicago started training camp, as reported by Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.

That’s just taking contact in practice. The Bulls will be cautious bringing back a guy they see as part of their future, so expect this to be closer to Thanksgiving or the end of the month before he plays. Which is the smart move to make.

Even then, ACL injuries take a long time to overcome, even for young players putting in the recovery work. It may be next season before we know if LaVine will continue on the trajectory he was on in Minnesota.

Magic Johnson shrugs off concern about Lonzo Ball realty series

Getty Images
4 Comments

Lonzo Ball has yet to play in one NBA game, yet he has his own signature shoe line, and he — along with his father LaVar Ball and the rest of his family — have their own reality show on FaceBook. Lonzo told me he doesn’t foresee this show, nor his bombastic father, being a problem with his teammates or on the court.

Magic Johnson agrees with that. At least for now.

The head of Lakers’ basketball operations said as training camp opened that he’s not worried about the show Ball in the Family being a distraction. If it is, he’ll step in, he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Only time I am going to concern myself with what [Lonzo] does off the court is if it is affecting his play on the court,” Johnson said at the Lakers’ media day when asked about Ball’s reality Facebook series, “Ball in the Family.”

“Right now, I think it is awesome,” Johnson said. “His family is great. They came out Saturday, we had a big Laker picnic. … His dad is wonderful with me, and I am cool with him. … I think [Lonzo] is tired of all this [hype]. He is just like me; I just want to play and I think he wants to play, and then Saturday night [for the Lakers’ preseason opener], sold out, in Anaheim, wow!”

It’s Magic’s job to put a positive spin on things.

That said, he’s right. The Lakers (and every NBA team) have dealt with overinvolved parents before and know how to create some space for the player to focus on the game. Locker rooms have a way of sorting themselves out in these kinds of situations. Plus, the Lakers have been down the reality show road before (when Lamar Odom married Khloe Kardashian), and while that had an ugly ending, it wasn’t for lack of Lakers’ players and others in the organization trying to step in and help. (Odom just wasn’t yet in a place to accept help.)

Soon LaVar will be focused on his other sons and Lonzo, who appears practiced at tuning his father out and focusing on what is in front of him, will have the grind of the NBA schedule to worry about.

Former NBA player Chuck Person named in college basketball bribery scandal

Associated Press
4 Comments

The recruitment of major college athletes — and then the steering of the handful that get to go pro to shoe companies and agents — is a sleazy business. It makes HBO’s “The Duece” look like Disneyland. It’s something sports fans know but largely turn a blind eye to until it forces its way into the headlines.

It turned up in the headlines Tuesday when four college assistant coaches from major universities were charged by federal prosecutors in a bribery scandal along with a representative of Adidas and others to steer players to specific agents or a financial handler.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Chuck Person, now an assistant coach at Auburn, was among those named in the scandal.

Person is making headlines because he’s the biggest name in the scandal. He is charged with accepting approximately $91,500 from a business manager, who has flipped and is working with prosecutors. This “business manager, offered bribes to Person to steer players toward his services, as well as another person charged in the scandal.

Person told prosecutors he gave $18,500 of the money he took to two players’ families, according to the filings.

Person was the No. 4 pick in the 1986 NBA draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year, followed by a 13-year NBA career. He made $22.9 million over the course of his career.