Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Florida State forward Patrick Williams declares for NBA draft

Florida State forward Patrick Williams
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Devin Vassell declared for the NBA draft from Florida State.

Now, Patrick Williams is following.

Evan Daniels of 247Sports:

Florida State freshman Patrick Williams is declaring for the NBA Draft and plans to forgo his remaining eligibility, he tells 247Sports.

“I decided to do it because I think my game isn’t NBA ready, but I have the potential to be NBA ready,” Williams explained. “I think with development and support and everything else on that level, I can eventually can be a really good NBA player.”

That’s an interesting self-assessment – one more players should take. Williams has the tools to project as a mid-first-round pick. As he said, he needs to develop. But he can do that while earning an NBA salary rather than being stuck in the NCAA’s cartel system. There’s no good case that college teams develop young players better than NBA teams, anyway.

It’s unclear whether Williams (6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) will settle in as more for a small forward or power forward. Probably power forward. But if his ball skills develop, he has potential as a small forward, a position in higher demand around the league.

As the NBA has embraced smaller lineups, rim protection – once more of a shared frontcourt responsibility – has increasingly fallen onto centers. Williams would help from either forward spot. He’s an energetic and athletic defender with good timing for blocking shots.

He needs work as a shooter. Williams has shown some ability running pick-and-rolls and creating mid-rangers for himself off the dribble. But he’s not consistent enough, and he’s far too poor of a distributor to have the ball much. His best offense comes when opportunistically taking advantage of his athleticism with cuts and alley-oop finishes.

Still, Williams shows enough flashes of more offensively to be intrigued. His defense is already more developed.

That combination is why he can feel confident about getting drafted high enough to enjoy the spoils of NBA life.

Rumor: Nets will try to trade young talent for third star

Nets Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince
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The Nets have it all on paper.

Stars (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving). Quality younger players (Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen). Draft picks (net even on future first-rounders).

But Brooklyn’s road from upstart contender has been rocky.

Irving tested the Nets with his moodiness before the season. He also called it “glaring” Brooklyn needed roster upgrades. The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson, who had proven adept at player development but evidently never connected enough with Durant and Irving.

How will Brooklyn take the next step?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I believe they’ve telegraphed that they intend to try to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along Kyrie and Durant. Now, we can get enter a healthy debate here about whether Caris LeVert is that third star, and they may make the decision that he is. But my feel and reading the tea leaves, paying attention to what Sean Marks has said and also being aware of some conversations that they had at the trade deadline, which was some sticking the toe in the water on some things, I think that they are going to swing for the fences whenever the offseason comes.

I also believe the Nets will try to trade for a third star. It’s the natural direction of a team that just signed two stars, and Irving appears antsy.

But I’d also caution: Every team wants another star. Brooklyn engaging teams about their stars before the trade deadline isn’t necessarily telling. It could be easy to overstate the significance of those conversations. It depends on their tenor.

That said, the Nets have expendable assets to make better offers than many other teams.

Dinwiddie hasn’t clicked on the court with Irving in two-point guard lineups. Best with the ball, LeVert is somewhat redundant with Durant and Irving. Allen has been repeatedly slighted in Brooklyn, most recently losing his starting job to DeAndre Jordan (Durant’s and Irving’s friend).

Yet, Dinwiddie, LeVert and Allen are all talented with potential to perform even better elsewhere. That ought to intrigue other teams.

Star trades usually require a disgruntled star. Teams rarely move a star without an internal push, including an approaching free agency. There’s no obvious target right now.

But expect the Nets to be on the prowl.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July/August 2021. Will they include NBA players?

USA Basketball Olympics
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The Tokyo Olympics were postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving questions about NBA players participating.

OlympicTalk:

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

That’s typically during the NBA offseason, but the NBA is also paused due to the coronavirus. Who knows how the league’s calendar will look when play resumes?

Still, these seem like good dates for getting NBA players into the Olympics. Even if the NBA playoffs are ongoing, eliminated players could participate in the Olympics.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still plans to coach Team USA. But, one way or another, USA Basketball should rethink its roster strategy.

Carmelo Anthony: LeBron James saved my life with swim rescue

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LeBron James sometimes appears superhuman.

His friends Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade provided another example during an Instagram Live.

Anthony:

We jumped off the boat in the Bahamas. We went – everybody swam to the little grotto over there, underneath. And we came out. All of y’all went to the boat, and – It was my fault though, because I’m still trying to see the last little bit of the barracuda, snorkeling and all that. So, it was my fault. Then, I look up. The current is taking me to the middle of the ocean, like opposite from the boat.

Wade:

We couldn’t see you.

Anthony:

I know. And it was windy. It was all type of s— was going on through my head. I’m going to be honest with you. Then, I see – I look up at the boat, and I see Bron jump off the boat like he is MacGyver.

He jumped off the boat into the water. He was bringing me back with one arm. He’s swimming with the other arm, and he’s carrying me in one arm.

Wade:

I’ve told people this story before. I said, “Listen, I’ve seen LeBron do a lot of amazing things on the court.”

Anthony:

That was special.

Wade:

Off the court, when he went and saved Melo’s life.

Anthony:

Nah, he saved my life. I can’t hold you. He saved my life. He saved my life. He saved my life. Yo Bron, I appreciate that. You saved my life that day. Them little flipper wasn’t working for me.

What a story!