So, here’s what we know. The Pacers have asked the NBA to investigate the Lakers for tampering. This is related to Paul George who, after relaying to the Pacers front office that he intended to exercise his FA rights next summer and that his preferred destination would be the Lakers, was traded by the Pacers to the Thunder. So, Paul George is no longer a Pacer and is not (yet, at least) a Laker, but now the latter is being investigated because the former asked the league to do so.
Both the NBA and the Lakers have issued statements on this matter, but the can be summarized as such: The NBA says the Pacers asked them to do this, an independent law firm is handling the investigation, and no wrongdoing has yet been found; The Lakers are saying they’re cooperating, but cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation, and hope their name will be cleared soon.
So, that’s that, right?
Well, not so fast.
First, it’s important to note two things. First, Magic Johnson did, by the letter of law, tamper in relation to Paul George. He did this when he appeared on a late night talk show and then used a fake scenario to show how he’d express interest in George to be a Laker by hinting at it because, you know, you he doesn’t want to tamper. Except, you know, by even saying that he’s tampering. Second, there are levels to tampering. There’s what Magic did on Kimmel and then there’s more severe stuff.
It should be noted, the league is likely looking into what that more severe stuff might be. Like calling George’s agent and talking specifically about George. Or calling George himself. Or calling George’s family/parents. This type of contact is a no-no and can be punishable by a lot of severe things — high dollar fines, loss of draft picks, or even a ruling that the Lakers cannot sign George…like ever.
These things are all bad and, if the Lakers were dumb enough to do any of the above things, they’d probably deserve any of the above. After all, Magic going on TV and being jovial uncle Magic Johnson and doing exaggerated winking is one thing. Having documented conversations with any of the people above about George? That’s quite another. Rob Pelinka is a former agent, he knows this well already. Also, him and Magic went to “CBA school” in NY at the league’s office and, I’m guessing, this stuff was covered extensively. So, both should know better. And, if they didn’t, their bad. Being a lead decision maker for an NBA franchise doesn’t come with “do overs” when it comes to these things. You break the rules, you pay the consequences.
Now, all that said, proving this stuff can end up being difficult. Paul George shares an agent with Julius Randle and former Laker D’Angelo Russell. The FO calling said agent can just as easily be about those players (and, remember, Russell did get traded so keeping his agent in the loop could easily be a thing that happened). Unless these calls were recorded, good luck proving there were any conversations about George. Now, if emails were written or texts sent or if calls were made to George himself or his family…yeah, that’s a mistake and they’ll pay for that. Probably severely, which is what leads me to believe they would not have done those things.
If I had to guess, then, I’d say nothing comes out of this. That, though, is just me guessing. So, I’ll still wait to see what comes about this and hang back without making any final judgements. These charges are serious enough that I believe that’s really the best way to handle this.
Lastly, there was a report today that other small market teams are happy the Pacers have taken the approach they have; that teams are “championing” the Pacers for having the league look into this matter. On the one hand, I can see this. Tampering is a real problem in the NBA and everyone knows it. I mean, you think teams come to agreements with FA’s at 12:01am on July 1st after just calling them right then? Of course not – agents and teams are working back channels way in advance of July 1st and basically have the framework of these deals agreed to. If teams think this needs to be cleaned up, I can see them applauding the Pacers for wanting this looked into.
On the other hand, small market teams getting excited about the Lakers potentially getting dinged is…predictable. Maybe I’m being sensitive to this, but I remember when Gregg Popovich said the Pau Gasol trade was a joke and should be rescinded. I remember Dan Gilbert writing Commissioner Stern a letter/email complaining about the Chris Paul trade and then, related or not, Stern issuing his “veto”. I tire of small market owners looking at big markets as the enemy or some sort of bogeyman that must be beat back through attempts at legislated parity.
The Lakers and other big market, rich teams cut huge revenue sharing checks that help those small market teams turn a profit. The Lakers — both Dr. Buss and, now Jeanie Buss — have voted for CBA’s that go against their own self interests in order to show solidarity with all the owners in attempts to do what was “best” for the league. They’ve earned respect at the Governors’ and Commissioner level because of this. But, it seems, those checks and that respect only goes so far to some. That when the Lakers find ways to live on the edges of the rules — something that many (all?) teams have done and continue to do — they get backlash and their accusers get congratulatory phone calls for trying to…stick it to the man?
Anyways, I’ll get off my soapbox now. We’ll see how this investigation plays out. But, in all honesty, what I’d love is that this all turns up nothing and 12 months from now George is a Laker anyway.