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.