The NBA announced today in a press release that it has fined the Clippers $50K for violating the league’s anti-tampering policy. The penalty stems from comments made by head coach Doc Rivers about Raptors star Kawhi Leonard during a television appearance.
“(Leonard) is the most like (Michael) Jordan that we’ve seen,” Rivers said while participating in an ESPN panel earlier this week, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. “Like, there’s a lot of great players. LeBron (James) is phenomenal. KD (Kevin Durant) is phenomenal. Not like he is Jordan, or anything like that. But he’s the most like him. Big hands. Post game. Can finish. Great leaper. Great defender. In-between game. If you beat him to the spot – bumps you off. And then you add his 3-point shooting…”
The NBA generally doesn’t crack down as hard on potential tampering violations when players and coaches talk about rival players, preferring to limit its penalties to comments made or actions taken by executives and owners.
In this case though, the NBA may have been sensitive to the perception that the Clippers have been recruiting Leonard all year while he’s under contract with Toronto. The Raptors have reached out to the league multiple times this season when they’ve felt the Clippers have crossed tampering lines, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link).
Additionally, it’s not as if Rivers was simply a head coach discussing an opponent directly before or after playing him. The circumstances surrounding Rivers’ comments explain why the league was less willing to let them slide.
While it’s possible that Leonard’s NBA Finals run with the Raptors will help convince him to stay in Toronto when he reaches free agency in a month, the Clippers are still lurking in the shadows as his presumed top suitor, Amick wrote in a column before Game 1.
Marc Stein of The New York Times also provided some details this week on the lengths the Clippers are going to as they prepare their pitch for Leonard, reporting that the club explored the feasibility of buying a portion of the rights to Kawhi’s “Klaw” logo, which is still owned by Nike.