Bulls, Heat lose second-round picks as “tampering” penalty for for Ball, Lowry sign-and-trades

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A quarter of the way into the season, the NBA could not go back and void an off-season trade, so it has essentially slapped the wrist of the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls for reaching out to player representatives too early.

The NBA has taken away a second-round pick from both teams, it was announced Wednesday. Here is the entire league statement on this following a several-month investigation.

“The NBA announced today that the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat each violated league rules governing the timing of this season’s free agency discussions and that the league has directed that each team’s next available second-round draft pick be forfeited. These determinations followed investigations into free agency discussions engaged in by the Bulls with respect to Lonzo Ball and by the Heat with respect to Kyle Lowry.”

The league ruled that the Heat reached out to a Lowry representative and the Bulls reached out to a Ball representative before that was allowed by league rules. Technically that is not tampering because they didn’t talk to the player themselves, although this is more semantics than a real difference.

The Heat released this statement.

The Bulls released this statement:

“The Chicago Bulls cooperated completely with the league in its investigation. We are glad this process has concluded and look forward to the rest of our season.”

Across the league, teams will look at this punishment and shrug. A second-round pick isn’t nothing, but if the cost of getting an impact player is an extra second-rounder (especially one in the second half of that round), teams will bake that into the cost of doing business.

This investigation dates back to last August when the Ball sign-and-trade to the Bulls (from the Pelicans) and the Lowry sign-and-trade to the Heat (from the Raptors) happened suspiciously quickly after the trade window opened. Both deals had been expected, but these are relatively complex sign-and-trades that should take longer to put together than it appeared. That implied “tampering” under the NBA’s archaic rules, some team officially complained about (we don’t know which team, but there are guesses). The NBA opened an investigation into potential tampering.

If the Bucks are a little pissed off, they have a right to be. They had been accused of tampering in a sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic in the previous offseason, and not only did they lose a second-round pick, but also the trade fell apart.

This punishment is not about to stop teams from talking early to players and agents; they are will simply be more careful in the future and make sure to leak their complex trades a little more slowly. Tampering — in the broad sense of the term — is widespread, it’s just done through back channels and with some plausible deniability. Players talk to other players and recruit each other all the time. Every team is involved. There are no clean hands here. The NBA laid out plans for a crackdown on tampering a couple of years ago, teams just look for ways to skirt it.

This action by the league will change little, if anything. Teams still will tamper, and the NBA rumor mill will be fed.