In 2000, the NBA voided Joe Smith’s contract with the Timberwolves.
That precedent has loomed over every tampering investigation since (even though Minnesota was punished for salary-cap circumvention, not tampering).
Yes, fines and lost draft picks are more common. The Timberwolves were also stripped five first-round picks (one later reinstated) and fined $3.5 million. But people freak about the possibility of a voided contract sparking chaos.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:
To clarify: Heat not being investigated for "tampering" but for "gun jumping," over timing of Lowry move. Been told process almost assuredly will not "unwind" the acquisition, but could involve draft pick, fines, sanctions. Expectation of process, "a couple of weeks, at least."
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) August 8, 2021
This sounds like semantics. Lowry was under contract with the Raptors until 12:01 a.m. Eastern Aug. 3. The NBA allowed teams to contact impending free agents at 6 p.m. Eastern Aug. 2. A Miami-Toronto Lowry sign-and-trade was widely believed to be happening before either day.
So, this isn’t tampering in the typical sense. The Raptors participated in the arrangement. But it could be tampering in that other teams interested in Lowry didn’t get fair opportunity to permissibly contact him once free agency opened.
It’d be understandable if people around the Heat are sensitive to the possibility of Lowry’s contract getting voided. The NBA voided Juwan Howard’s contract with Miami in 1996. However, that was also due to salary-cap circumvention, not tampering. (Unlike the Timberwolves with Joe Smith, a blatantly illegal scheme, the Howard case involved a gray area that was later clarified in a future Collective Bargaining Agreement).
Voiding Lowry’s contract would not only punish the Heat, it’d send Lowry – who chose Miami – back into free agency with cap room largely gone around the league. The NBA has shown little indication it actually wants to crack down on tampering, let alone in a way that so drastically punishes a player. The league just sometimes talks big and arbitrarily punishes a team every so often.
So, consequences for everyone involved with the Lowry and Ball deals are somewhat unpredictable.
But at least Lowry getting his contract voided appears highly unlikely.