But the seeds being planted now are already raising suspicions throughout the NBA.
Michael Rubin – for those who don’t know, the Sixers’ co-owner – very, very, very good friends with James Harden. And I’ve talken to a rival owner, talking to rival front-office executives who believe that there can be something, some talks going on now between both sides. And this is what I was told: Some front-office executives are prepared to – when the time comes, if a deal does look like it’s about to transpire where there could be some potential sign-and-trade in the offseason – they’re prepared to get the league involved on a potential collusion case, dating back to what they believe could be going on right now, as to why we’re probably hearing a lot of Philadelphia-James Harden talk. So, that’s something to keep an eye on. If it does get to the point where it looks like James Harden will be headed to Philly, I was told there will be complaints issued to the league on trying to investigate, to see if there were any collusion, any talks of recruitment going on right now, which is illegal and against the CBA.
Many NBA tampering cases involve relatively harmless behavior. Who really cares whether teams negotiate early with free agents after the season, especially if everyone does it? An owner or executive publicly discussing why he wouldn’t trade for a player on another team doesn’t really change much. Even the league finally acknowledged isolated compliments from an executive should no longer draw tampering fines.
But a team – especially through an owner – recruiting a star away from a championship contender during the season? That’s exactly what most people want stopped.
The Nets aren’t the only team that could claim aggrievement. Other teams also want a chance to pursue Harden themselves. If teams are trying to operate by the book (or at least closer to it), that could put them at an extreme disadvantage. The chase for Harden could be complete before it’s supposed to begin under even the most liberal understandings of when it’s permissible to pitch a player. That type of concern might have prompted the Bulls (Lonzo Ball) and Heat (Kyle Lowry) receiving tampering penalties.
It’s worth remembering 76ers president Daryl Morey already got fined for tampering with Harden. Though it was over a tweet where Morey acknowledged the anniversary of Harden breaking the Rockets’ career assists record (which happened while both were in Houston) – such a trivial reason for a fine – the incident might have been foreboding. Hackles are raised over Morey’s connection to Harden.
This additional scrutiny could foil an opt-in-and-trade, which could allow Harden to earn higher salaries and – unlike a sign-and-trade – not trigger a hard cap for his new team. Harden must exercise his player option by June 29. He’s not permitted to talk to other teams until June 30. It’s practically impossible to see how an opt-in-and-trade would work without tampering.
This situation could provide insight into how much the tampering landscape has really changed.