The Kawhi Leonard free agency saga was the biggest story in the NBA over the summer. Everyone knew it was a race between the title winning Raptors, the historic Lakers, and the quickly on the rise Clippers. And maybe, for a moment, the New York Knicks.
Eventually, Leonard chose the Clippers, much to the shock of the Lakers, and to begrudging acceptance of the Raptors. However, there was a lot of smoke in that situation that led to everyone wondering if there was anything against the rules taking place in Los Angeles. The NBA even investigated the Clippers over these concerns. The Clippers denied it and the NBA supposedly found no evidence to believe that they had done something nefarious.
While the NBA did not find the Clippers broke any rules, there were rumors that Leonard’s side had been demanding everything under the sun to convince him. The person reportedly demanding most of this is Leonard’s uncle, the infamous Uncle Dennis. According to a story in The Athletic, multiple sources say the Clippers were investigated for tampering after the league heard stories about what Dennis Robertson asked teams for, much of which violated the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
The stories about Robertson’s wish list made their way to the league office soon after Leonard made his decision, with concerned parties reporting that Leonard’s uncle had asked pursuing teams for much, much more than a max contract (Kawhi ultimately signed a three-year, $103 million deal with the Clippers). Sources say the league was told that Robertson asked team officials for part ownership of the team, a private plane that would be available at all times, a house and — last but certainly not least — a guaranteed amount of off-court endorsement money that they could expect if Leonard played for their team. All of those items, to be clear, would fall well outside the confines of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
Robertson was supposedly demanding this kind of return from everyone he spoke to. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss told him multiple times that these kinds of offers were illegal and that they wouldn’t be entertaining them. The Raptors supposedly experienced similar demands. This has left a lot of pent up frustration with Leonard’s representation not understanding the rules and making negotiations more difficult. It also apparently made teams feel like they were just being used as leverage against other offers.
Much of these shenanigans led to the NBA’s stronger emphasis on tampering over the offseason is largely because he apparently just doesn’t understand the rules, or he doesn’t want to follow them. He’s accidentally changed the NBA.
As one prominent agent said at the time about the league’s renewed focus on laying down the law over the summer, “This is because of Dennis. He didn’t know the rules.”
Said one owner: “This (league-wide discussion) is all because of Uncle Dennis.”
These stories have been out there as speculation since July, but it is remarkable to see it all laid out in one place. The only thing we know for certain is that Leonard’s camp made demands that led to one of the more interesting free agent periods in recent memory, and it led to the NBA deciding to take tampering more seriously.