NBA opens wide-ranging investigation into tampering

Both ESPN and New York Times are reporting that the NBA has opened a wide-ranging investigation into tampering, looking into both improper inducements as well as the timing of some of the earliest deals.

ESPN did not mention the Nets agreements with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but the Times did, noting how the Nets got agreements worth a third of a billion dollars.

Both claimed the investigation was an outgrowth of tense meeting of the NBA’s Board of Governors last week in Las Vegas. The owners of many small market teams claimed they were put at a disadvantage.

The most controversial claim involves not the Nets nor the timing of agreements, but reports that Dennis Robertson, Kawhi Leonard’s uncle, had sought extras beyond what’s permitted under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Sopan Deb of the Times reported…

There were also multiple reports this month suggesting that Kawhi Leonard’s representatives, in arranging his blockbuster move from the Toronto Raptors to the Los Angeles Clippers, had asked for perks that would violate the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

The ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, citing “people in N.B.A. circles,” said on the air that Leonard’s uncle — Dennis Robertson (known in N.B.A. circles as “Uncle Dennis”) — had asked other teams for houses, planes and guaranteed sponsorship money. Smith added, “I have no idea whether this is true or not.”

As for the Nets and contract timing in general, Deb wrote…

A number of deals seemed to be completed at breakneck speed. Kemba Walker committed to the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving to the Nets almost immediately when free agency began, and the likelihood of the moves was essentially known for days.

Also close to the time free agency started, Kevin Durant posted a video on Instagram announcing his decision to leave the Golden State Warriors and become a Net.

Sean Marks, in several interviews, has said he had no official meetings with KD and was unaware of Durant’s intentions until the 10-time All-Star announced them his media company’s Instagram account. Spencer Dinwiddie told Shams Charania that he had been talking to Irving since last December. The league has generally turned a blind eye to player recruiting.

Without mentioning the Nets, Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN noted that

[T]he league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

ESPN noted that more than a billion dollars in contracts were agreed to in the first 24 hours after free agency opened on June 30, suggesting deals had been negotiated and finalized “well before the official opening of free agency.” The agreements with Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, reported that night by Adrian Wojnarowski, were worth $345 million.

Neither ESPN nor the Times suggested a timeline for the investigation or how it might proceed. The league could assess penalties —like the loss of draft picks, as it did a decade ago with the Timberwolves— but it could also simply use what it found to inform changes in the next CBA.

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