The NBA believes it has a bit of a problem on its hands. On one hand, the league supports the concept of player empowerment, but this summer has caused some in the league to take a bit of a step back. With 40 percent of players available on the free agent market, there was a whole lot of activity, with some deals between teams and players being reported before 6 p.m. on June 30.
Naturally this set off a whole lot of alarms about tampering, which in turn has become a major topic of conversation over the last month. In fact, a new piece by Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN revealed that the NBA Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas spent a whole lot of time on this subject. One thing is abundantly clear: The NBA isn’t sure what it’s going to do to combat tampering.
We do know, thanks to the story, that the league has decided to investigate just what went down in the time leading up to June 30.
Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.
The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.
Naturally it’s damn near impossible to police tampering, if only because of the scope at which it happens is so large. How, exactly, is the league supposed to keep players from talking to one another, or agents who represent a player on a team that has interest in another one of an agent’s clients from talking about them? There’s mingling between these camps all the time, whether it’s at a league-sanctioned event like the NBA Draft, the combine, or something else, or when players are just texting one another and discuss playing.
Plenty of possible changes came up, according to Lowe and Windhorst, such as players and their reps speaking to teams soon after the NBA Finals conclude, having free agency occur before the Draft, reducing the moratorium that exists between June 30 and July 6, and generally giving teams more time to talk to players if other players can just do this, anyway. There was also a note about family members repping players and getting carte blanche to do whatever they want, with a reference to Kawhi Leonard’s omnipresent uncle, Dennis Robertson.
It’s a tricky line to walk, though, as all of those plans have some type of issue that the league would have to confront to make it happen. For instance, shortening the moratorium is tough due to the league needing to have full financials from the previous year, which would include the NBA Finals. There’s also the fact that the path to really enforcing tampering, at least to the extent that it would be completely weeded out, would require some methods that could make teams awfully uncomfortable.
In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.
Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.
Buchanan’s tone was not threatening, or aggressive, sources say. He appeared to be offering guidance: This is what strict enforcement might look like.
Tampering is a major issue in the estimation of NBA teams, the league office, and, as the story points out, even agents. Normally when there is this much will behind something, not to mention a new Collective Bargaining Agreement coming sometime in the next few years, you can anticipate change. What that change looks like, though, is still to be determined.