Clippers executive Jerry West raved about Warriors stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – which sounded a lot like the comments that got Lakers president Magic Johnson fined for tampering with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
After all, NBA commissioner Adam Silver explained the Johnson fine: “What we’ve said to him, and it’s a clear message to other team executives, is that stop talking about star players on other teams. There are plenty of other issues they can address.”
Well, West again talked about a star player on another team. This time it was Celtics forward Gordon Hayward.
“I’ll just say that every once in a while, there’s a chance that people get to take advantage of someone,” West said. “I don’t think that will ever happen again, but what Brooklyn did almost should be legislated against, to be honest with you.
“It’s very much like when Stepien was in Cleveland,” he added, referring to former Cavs owner Ted Stepien, who traded away so many first-round picks that the league no longer allows teams to trade first-rounders in consecutive years. “We got the No. 1 pick in the draft (James Worthy in 1982) out of it, who helped us win championships.
“But Danny’s done a nice job back there. Are they good enough? They had a terrible break with a very good player (Gordon Hayward), and are they good enough now? At the end of a couple of years, they’re going to be judged by that, by how they’re doing then — not by now. They’ve got some good young players. They’ve got a terrific coach. They’ve got a lot of positive things going, that’s for sure.”
I promise I’m not trying to pick on West. I appreciate his perspective, as a former great player and longtime executive. I don’t think he should be punished for this.
But I wouldn’t blame the Lakers one bit if they feel they’re being held to a different standard. The NBA has created an unease around the most benign forms of tampering – the most meaningful still go largely unchecked – thanks to a selective enforcement.
Moving onto to the substance of West’s quote, he might be right about a rule change to prevent another Brooklyn situation.
It’s easy to say the NBA shouldn’t protect teams from themselves, but that’s probably counter to the league’s financial interests. The Nets have been hopeless for three years, and it’ll probably take multiple more seasons to dig out of this hole. A large market is going to waste. The NBA is a money-making enterprise more than anything else, so that’s a big problem.
The Nets found a loophole in the Stepien Rule with pick swaps, allowing the team to keep a first-rounder every other year – just not the high one their lousy record would otherwise entitle them to. It was a clever workaround, one that effectively nullified the Stepien Rule.
There’s a case that Brooklyn’s plight will dissuade teams from ever trying such a plan again. But a similar case could have been made about Stepien’s Cavs, and the league decided that type of trading must be specifically prohibited.
The Stepien Rule exists for a reason, and if that reason is valid, the rule doesn’t go far enough.
Fixing that would be a much better use of the league’s time than (sometimes) turning harmless mentions of opposing players into the high crime of tampering.