The league saw many of its players sign deals within minutes of free agency’s official start and the NBA has now opened an investigation, focusing on the timing of some of the earliest reported contracts on June 30, ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst report.
The duo writes that the scope of the investigation is developing and it will include interviews with players and may include interviews with agents and team employees. The NBA has the power to hand out punishment to franchises it finds guilty of tampering.
The investigation comes as a result of a “tense” owners meeting, per the ESPN duo. During the meeting, Hornets owner Michael Jordan discussed the possibility of revisiting the free agency rules during the next collective bargaining agreement. Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry spoke about his concerns for the grey areas of the tampering rules. Other owners expressed frustration that deals had seemingly been agreed to ahead of the 6 p.m. EST start of free agency on June 30.
Rick Buchanan, who has long served as the NBA’s general counsel, told the room of owners that they should all have the expectation that every team will abide by a set of enforceable rules for free agency and the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would be “strictly enforced,” the pair of ESPN scribes write. Buchanan’s tone was not aggressive, but rather, he was offering guidance to what enforcement may look like, suggesting that the league could seize servers and cellphones to track any illegal contact that teams might make with players.
What and how this will all be enforceable is still a work-in-progress. The league is exploring changes to free agency rules that may make more sense under the current climate. Specific issues that were discussed during the meeting and since then include:
- The possibilities of allowing teams to speak to players once the NBA Finals were complete or shortly after
- How currently, free agency unofficially begins during the draft combine when agents and teams have conversations that expand past the draft prospects and include free agents
- The idea that if teams are speaking with players before June 30, why not just allow it openly.
Having the draft fall after free agency may help to reduce the risk of tampering. The Rockets formally proposed this change last offseason and only 10 clubs supported the change, though several responders did not have a strong preference either way, sources tell Lowe and Windhorst.
Allowing teams more time to talk with players before they hit the market was among the discussed topics and might be a solution. In a league where players and players’ unofficial representatives, such as family members, are able to communicate freely with opposing players much earlier than the end of the moratorium, it may make sense that teams are afforded the same luxury.