Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.
The league will also investigate.
Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.
The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.
In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.
Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.
It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.
Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.
I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.
This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.
Tricky questions remain, though.
How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.
When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.
So, there’s no perfect solution.
But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.