There were a lot frustrated, ticked-off owners and front office staff at July’s for a Board of Governor’s meeting — and tampering was what had blood boiling. Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) were top free agent names who appeared to have their next teams — and maybe contracts — lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics complained the 76ers may have tampered with Al Horford, and there were questions about what steps eventually brought Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers.
“It’s pointless, at the end of the day, to have rules that we can’t enforce,” is how NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put it after that meeting.
Now the league is warning teams of a crackdown on tampering — steeply increased fines and tougher enforcement — in a memo to teams that Shams Charania of The Athletic saw.
The owners will have to vote on this at their September 20 meeting, Charania reports. Undoubtedly it will pass.
The memo says the crackdown is in response to the “widespread perception that many of the league’s rules are being broken on a frequent basis” about tampering and salary cap issues, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.
It all sounds tough on paper.
The question isn’t the new rules but how they are enforced. To this point, the league has had a hands-off approach to player-to-player conversations and recruiting, how tightly do they want to enforce it now? More importantly, how do they implement it? Take players phones to monitor texts? (Most player conversations are not about “work” or recruiting, it’s about the things you text your friends about.) What about when players go to dinners/clubs together and talk? Spencer Dinwiddie said he started to pitch the idea of Irving coming to the Nets in a business class the two took together, how exactly does the league learn about this and stop it?
Most front offices and agents do a very good job of plausible deniability — there are not traceable emails or texts making tampering challenging to prove. Things are not done formally, it’s through back channels and casual conversations. The league is talking tough, but enforcement is going to be another issue.