Tampering has quietly existed in the NBA for decades, but teams, players and agents barely tried to hide it this summer. Several big-money contracts were announced shortly after the official start of free agency on June 30 that were obviously too complex to have been formed during the few minutes in which negotiations were legal.
Teams that lost stars complained loudly about the process, and the league decided action had to be taken. The NBA’s Board of Governors voted yesterday to adopt tough new rules, which include a fine of up to $10MM if it’s determined that “egregious” tampering has taken place.
Commissioner Adam Silver stressed that the penalties may not stop with fines. Suspensions of team executives, forfeiting draft picks and voiding contracts are all now on the table.
“We need to ensure that we’re creating a culture of compliance in this league,” Silver said. “Our teams want to know that they’re competing on a level playing field and frankly don’t want to feel disadvantaged if they are adhering to our existing rules.”
The league also has the authority to review cell phones and other electronic communication devices to look for evidence of tampering. That provision has raised the most concern among team officials, who fear that their privacy may be violated and sensitive information could be leaked.
This is hardly the first time the league has promised to crack down on tampering, but the tough talk has never made a difference in the past. Part of the problem is that many of the sales pitches made to players who are under contract come from other players, which the league acknowledges it can’t prevent. There’s no way to stop players at an All-Star Game or an international competition from talking about becoming NBA teammates some day. And the league can’t do anything if friends like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving make plans to join forces when they hit free agency at the same time.
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