Three things to know: It’s time to revisit the NBA tampering rule

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) 76ers slap on the wrist shows it’s time to revisit tampering rule

Daryl Morey would do it all again, exactly the same way, and live with the outcome 100 times out of 100.

He’s not alone: If two second-round picks are the price to round out a contending roster, 29 other GMs would have done the same thing.

Which is why the tampering rule and its enforcement needs to be reviewed and altered as part of the new CBA.

The 76ers potential tampering was the focus of a four-month NBA investigation that ended on Monday. The league announced it had “rescinded” the Philadelphia 76ers’ second-round picks in 2023 and 2024 due to tampering last summer with P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, Jr., saying they spoke to them before the July 1 allowable date.

Of course they did — everybody talks to everybody before July 1. What Morey did not was the norm, not some one-off violation of the rule. The NBA’s tampering rules are more like speeding on the highway — everyone does it, just don’t stand out and get caught. Why do you think there is a rush of deals in the first 24 hours of free agency? If a GM doesn’t have a couple of verbal agreements for free agents lined up before free agency officially opens, he’s being negligent.

What Morey and the 76ers did is a perfect example — and an example of what is wrong with the rule.

If you recall, in June James Harden opted out of the $47.4 million final year of his contract and became a free agent. Morey quickly used the cap space Harden’s absence created to sign P.J. Tucker to a three-year midlevel exception contract (announced one minute into free agency) and soon after ink Danuel House Jr. A couple of weeks later, Harden re-signed in Philly for “what was left” of the space the 76ers had under the hard cap, or $33 million this season (with a player option for next summer, or he can become a free agent).

Did Morey and the players’ agents coordinate that free agency dance before the June 30 window opened? Of course it was.

But so what?

The seasons for both Tucker and House ended when their teams were eliminated from the playoffs. While technically an NBA contract runs through June 30, once the Heat’s season ended in the playoffs his duties were over, he was just awaiting free agency. Why shouldn’t his agent be able to talk to other teams once he was eliminated? It’s not going to influence his play on the court, and he’ll be a free agent in a month.

There is a place for the tampering rule with players still under an active contract. For example, teams should not be able to contact the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo today and try and convince him to come play for them someday.

However, once the Bucks’ season and playoff run ends (whenever that is), the representatives of free agent to be Khris Middleton should be able to talk to other teams and discuss deals. The season has ended, what is the harm? (For the record, everyone around the league expects Middleton will re-sign in Milwaukee, but he would have options if he wanted to test the market.)

And that’s not even getting into players recruiting other players, which is technically tampering but seldom enforced by the league.

The NBA’s current tampering rules are virtually unenforceable and are flaunted by both teams and agents. Bring the rule into the modern age, allow agents/players and other teams to talk once their season ends. Draw a better, clearer tampering line — then enforce that line. But do not keep the silly status quo system.

2) Fans sit courtside at Nets game wearing Fight Antisemitism’ T-shirts, get to see Durant drop 36

The Brooklyn Nets got a much-needed win thanks to Kevin Durant continuing to play at an MVP level, dropping 36 points on a feisty Pacers team Monday night.

That’s not what everyone was talking about.

A group of Jewish Nets’ fans sat courtside in Brooklyn wearing “fight antisemitism” T-shirts. This comes in the wake of Kyrie Irving stepping into another controversy when he shared the link to a movie — “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” — considered anti-Semitic and filled with other disinformation.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Irving took the high road.

Irving has said he embraces all religions and defended his right to post whatever he sees fit on social media, but after being criticized by Nets owner Joe Tsai and talking about it with the team, he did take the Tweet down.

3) Watch Paul George drain a game-winner, get Clippers a needed win

The Clippers’ offense has been dreadful this season, second worst in the NBA, as they try to blend last season’s ball movement and spacing with the isolation-heavy styles of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

But the Clippers leaned into George in isolation when they needed a game-winner on Monday and got it — George hit a game-winning baseline jumper over Eric Gordon with 6.2 seconds remaining, ultimately giving the Clippers a 95-93 win.

George finished with 35 points, and only two other Clippers — Ivica Zubac at 16 and Marcus Morris at 11 — scored in double digits. Kevin Martin Jr. led the Rockets with 23 off the bench.

Two bonus things to know: 1) Pascal Siakam remains red hot to start season and scored 31 as the Raptors routed the Hawks. This is a quality win for a Raptors squad in what will be a tight East (both the Hawks and Pacers are 4-3 so far).

2) The Jazz are not cooling down, they beat Grizzlies 121-105 And are now 4-0 at home and 6-2 overall. A healthy Lauri Markkanen continues to put up numbers for the Jazz and had 31 in this one. Ja Morant is still a force of nature and had 37 in the loss.

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.