The rumors circulated not long after Kawhi Leonard agreed to terms with the Clippers: Had Leonard’s close advisor Dennis Robertson (known as “Uncle Dennis” around the NBA) really requested guaranteed sponsorship money, houses and more as part of Leonard signing a contract with a team?
A team providing any of those “improper inducements” would violate the CBA. Whether Robertson really made those requests is not yet known — rumors and gossip are not facts, and there are a couple of proud and spurned franchises that may be trying to save face — and him asking and a team giving him those inducements are two different things.
The N.B.A. has begun an investigation into how teams handled free agency this summer, focusing on whether improper inducements were offered to players to circumvent the salary cap, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation.
The issue was raised by multiple team owners at a meeting of the league’s board of governors this month in Las Vegas, according to the person, who requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly on the subject.
The league also is investigating something that is clearly happening across all 30 teams: Tampering, and contracts being worked out before the start of free agency.
The N.B.A. is also exploring whether it needs to change its rules against tampering. Several players committed to signing with a team as soon as free agency negotiations officially opened at 6 p.m. on June 30 — even though teams were not allowed to begin recruiting before then. League rules prohibit players, coaches and front office executives from enticing an athlete under contract with another team to come play for their franchise.
“I think it’s pointless at the end of the day to have rules that we can’t enforce,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said after the spirited Board of Governors’ meeting. “I think it hurts the perception of integrity around the league if people say, well, you have that rule and it’s obvious that teams aren’t fully complying, so why do you have it. I think the sense in the room was we should revisit those rules, think about what does make sense for our teams so that ultimately we can create a level playing field among the teams and that the partner teams have confidence that their competitors are adhering to the same set of rules they are.”
More than fines or some other punitive punishment, rule changes are what is likely to come out of all this. Every team tampers on some level, as do plenty of agents. Players do recruit each other (although that fall short far more often than is made public, largest contract offer still wins the day most of the time).
However, nobody wants the NBA to go full NSA and start monitoring texts between players. The NBA’s tampering and free agency rules were written in a bygone era and need to be updated to things the league both can and is willing to enforce.
This investigation likely will take most of the summer or longer to complete.