It appears that the going rate for tampering punishments in the NBA is a second round draft pick. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA has concluded its tampering investigations into the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat for sign and trades during the 2021 offseason. Both teams were punished with the loss of a second round draft pick. The Heat and Bulls’ cooperation with the investigation was taken into account when assessing how to punish them.
The minute that the NBA’s free agency period opened at 6 p.m. EST on Aug. 2, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Bulls agreed to a contract with Lonzo Ball — the New Orleans Pelicans guard was a restricted free agent this summer. The contract was reported seven minutes before the terms of the sign and trade. Adrian Wojnarowski reported the day before free agency started that the Heat were front runners to land Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry, and included in the report were the exact players who the Heat ended up sending to the Raptors to complete the deal.
We can argue about whether or not the punishments are stringent enough, or if tampering in the NBA should even be a concern. What the NBA has made clear through two seasons with new tampering rules is that what they want most is for teams to stop being so flagrant with their tampering.
In 2019, the NBA announced there would be more emphasis placed on tampering investigations, and more stringent punishments for violators. The maximum fine is $10 million, executives can be suspended, clearly draft picks can be forfeited, and in the absolute worst cases, the contracts can be voided.
The Milwaukee Bucks put this new rule to the test the very next offseason. Wojnarowski reported that they had reached a sign and trade deal with the Sacramento Kings for guard Bogdan Bogdanović. That report was on Nov. 16, four full days before free agency actually began. The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that the NBA was launching a tampering investigation on Nov. 19, one day before free agency opened. The deal fell through and the Bucks were eventually docked a 2022 second round NBA Draft pick.
NBA teams, player agents, have you ever seen Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin’s paper bag speech from Season 3 of The Wire? In it he discusses when public consumption of alcohol became illegal in Baltimore. It’s a waste of time for police to be scouring the streets to see if people are drinking a can of sweet tea or a can of Miller Lite on the corner, but it’s still disrespectful to have that white can of beer out in the open knowing that it’s against the law. Then one day there was a “great moment of civic compromise.” Someone put the drink in a paper bag, problem solved.
The NBA has far more important issues to investigate than when the Bulls began their offseason pursuit of LaVar Ball’s eldest child. There’s an owner in Phoenix who appears worse than Daniel Snyder, and a toxic workplace issue with a general manager in Portland. Gambling is completely done in the open in professional sports these days, and that needs constant monitoring to make sure there’s not another Tim Donaghy situation.
That being said, the NBA can’t have it’s tampering rules being blatantly disregarded in front of the entire world. People every free agency mocking tampering in the NBA is bad for business. It makes it appear that the league has no control over its offseason.
It’s time for the NBA and agents to put tampering in a paper bag. It will be harder to get agents onboard because their job is to get their clients more money, but there has to be a way to do this without deals leaking early or at 6 p.m sharp on the day of free agency. Bogdanović got his money from the Atlanta Hawks, but he lost out on an NBA Championship, because a brand new policy was deliberately and openly ignored.
Just leak the news at 6:15 p.m. EST on the day that free agency opens. It will work out better for everyone in the long run.