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Does the NBA Have a Tampering Problem?

Does the NBA have a tampering problem? After the Lakers were fined $500K for openly recruiting Paul George, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver debate whether Adam Silver should get ahead of the issue.

Paul George was traded to the Thunder in one of the biggest moves of the NBA offseason—but there's been much more talk this summer about the former Pacers star regarding a different team.

The Lakers were hit with a $500K tampering fine by the NBA last week after Magic Johnson openly discussed George coming to L.A. on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in April. George has stated he's focused on playing for Oklahoma City this season, but that hasn't helped quiet the buzz around the league that George will join the Lakers once he becomes a free agent.

With player tampering quickly becoming a hot-button issue around the league, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver examined the NBA's ongoing problem on the newest episode of Open Floor. Among the questions discussed: Is the Lakers' tampering a big deal? Is player tampering the future of the NBA? And how much of a problem is this going to be for Adam Silver?

(To listen to this entire Open Floor episode, click here. The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.)


Ben Golliver: I’m really curious about the Lakers' fine, do you think is a big deal or just a slap on the wrist? Is this something that has bigger implications to you?

Andrew Sharp: I think it has sneaky big implications. It’s one of those things where for the first week I kind of laughed it off. You know, a lot of this is business as usual and teams talk, players talk and tampering is generally overstated. But in this case, the Pacers really did get screwed. In hindsight, if you go back to the first Paul George rumors in June, sure, you could say they should have traded him at the deadline. But by the time we got to June, Paul George’s agent was calling teams saying, ‘You can try and trade for him, but he’s only going to be here for a year. After that he’s going to L.A.’ and that cut his value in half. His value was already pretty depressed because there was only one year on the deal, but whatever value there was going to be, was pretty much gone at that point. There’s no real reason for another player not to do the same thing and sort of angle his way and force his way to the team he wants.

Golliver: It is kind of funny that this beautiful image of the NBA’s glory days in the 80s—Larry and Magic, Magic and Larry—has now culminated in Larry taking his ball and going home and retiring, and Magic desperately attempting on national TV to steal Larry’s best player and getting hit with a half-million dollar fine for it.

Breaking Down How the Lakers Got Caught Violating the Anti-Tampering Rule

Sharp: I didn’t even think of the Larry and Magic aspect of this. That’s tough! I don’t like to see Larry go out in a whimper like this…

Golliver: I don’t think anybody does. I think you didn’t think about it because it got left out of the ’30 for 30’ on their loving friendship. Somehow they didn’t cover that…but I’m pretty conflicted. On one hand, we have seen some of these tampering situations before, they usually blow over pretty quickly, and they’re not a big deal. On the other hand, if you have a guy like Rob Pelinka or some of these other executives who are coming from the agent side, where I’m not saying all agents are dirty, but those guys like to push the envelope. They live in gray areas. You hear about it all the time in terms of recruiting players real early in their lives, all that kind of stuff.

Sharp: It’s a super shady business.

Golliver: It just is. That’s just how it is. There’s so much money at stake and in a lot of cases these kids don’t have direction, right? If you’re going to get an NBA environment where you have a bunch of agents and executives and you’re getting into this constant recruiting battle over star talent, this is going to be a very big issue facing the league going forward. The small markets were already at a disadvantage. If the gloves are off and the only thing that teams are worried about are fines, and there’s so much money at stake that these teams can easily cut the checks to the league office, this is going to be a festering issue. Adam Silver has done a great job as commissioner, but I don’t think he’s thought about this that carefully. For one example, C.J. McCollum is tweeting out photos of Carmelo Anthony in a Blazers jersey. Can you imagine what color David Stern’s face had turned if that happened in the Stern Era? He would have lost his mind. All the players recruiting players openly on the Internet, yet there’s no response from Adam Silver’s office. To me, they have to tighten this up. They really need to figure this out. I don’t know if there needs to be new guidelines to say, ‘This is OK, this isn’t OK,’ but I don’t think players should be able to recruit each other openly on social media. I think that just feeds into this.

Certainly, the things the Lakers were doing behind the scenes, when you can prove it, should be prosecuted. And it does feel like there should be a stronger penalty behind it. Otherwise we’re leaving the Indiana’s and the Orlando’s of the world to just be run over by the big-market teams.

Sharp: So that’s the thing. I’m not like Captain Small Market here, but I do think that there are situations that arise when there’s just no good option for these teams. You can’t tell me that Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis was the best offer the Pacers had this summer, but I think they would have had a lot more to choose from if Paul George’s agent hadn’t been so upfront about the intentions next summer. And I don’t think he’s ever that upfront without some real assurances from the Lakers that it works on their end as well. So it’s kind of tough to tell what went on with the Lakers, and that’s part of the problem, because all of this stuff is going to be impossible to police. And it is tricky too, because some of this stuff is what makes the NBA fun and more interesting than other sports. You mentioned C.J. McCollum openly recruiting guys, I do think that a lot of it is just ridiculous and entertaining, and you don’t want to crack down on the personality aspect. And even players recruiting players is generally fine with me, but once you hit the agent-level, where agents are really talking to teams and sort of mapping out a blueprint, then it starts to really cross some lines. I don’t know how you police it. The Lakers are worth $2 billion, $500,000 is not an issue.

Golliver: And I don’t think we should overlook the players’ role when it becomes public, because you get this slow bleed of headlines. Any time one of these guys recruits each other openly on social media, which used to just not be allowed at all, it goes straight to SportsCenter and every place in the aggregation world. When you have that mounting pile of headlines day after day, week after week, month after month, it absolutely affects a team’s trade position. I think we’ve seen that not only in the Paul George situation but other star trade scenarios as well in recent years, so I don’t think the Pacers should be the only team that’s upset by this and I’m surprised more owners haven’t come out and said, ‘Hey we need to clean this up.’

We had a really ugly, messy situation this summer and there weren’t even that many big names that were free agents. When we look at next summer’s class, it could get completely out of control.

Sharp: There’s an element that I kind of like from a chaos standpoint: Who’s the best at tampering? Who’s the best at recruiting? Right now, it’s clearly the Warriors, but it would be fun to have the Lakers turn full heel and start stealing people’s players. We might be headed there. But it’s an issue the league should address because half of the teams just have no hope of ever doing that. Part of it is, the Wolves are a good example of a team that became good enough they became a viable destination for Jimmy Butler. Maybe that’s one way you sell it. But it’s tough. And it’s tough for teams. Teams like Indiana, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, are always going to have trouble recruiting guys two years in advance. It’s not really a level playing field.

Click here to listen to this entire episode of Open Floor from Sharp and Golliver.