The NBA conducted a formal investigation into the Clippers last summer following the team’s free agent agreement with Kawhi Leonard, three sources with knowledge of the situation tell Sam Amick of The Athletic. As Amick explains, complaints surfaced during Leonard’s free agency that his uncle Dennis Robertson was asking teams for improper benefits.
According to Amick, the NBA was told following Leonard’s free agent decision that Robertson had asked team officials for an ownership stake, a private plane, a house, and a guaranteed amount of off-court endorsement money they could expect if Kawhi joined their team. As Amick rightly notes, all of those requests would violate the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
A source with knowledge of the Lakers‘ talks with Leonard tells Amick that Robertson repeatedly made those requests to owner Jeanie Buss, who made it clear the perks were illegal and wouldn’t be considered. Sources tell The Athletic that similar requests were made of the Raptors, which aligns with what we heard out of Toronto at the time.
The presumption among rival teams is that Robertson asked the Clippers for similar perks, but the league’s investigation didn’t turn up any evidence that the Clips granted any of those requests, per Amick.
Leonard’s free agency process was believed to be the motivating factor for the NBA’s decision to introduce new anti-tampering guidelines and penalties this fall. The league has also asked the players’ union to re-emphasize that only certified player agents are permitted to negotiate directly with teams, a rule that teams are expected to stress on their ends going forward as well.
“This is all because of Uncle Dennis,” one team owner said of those measures to cut down on tampering and cap circumvention, according to Amick. A prominent agent offered a similar assessment: “This is because of Dennis. He didn’t know the rules.”
Although the Lakers are comfortably atop the Western Conference with a 24-6 record, the team is still upset by how the Leonard sweepstakes played out, says Amick. For a short time, there was a strong belief within the Lakers’ organization that the Finals MVP would choose them, but they came to suspect that Kawhi’s camp was using them for leverage.
For what it’s worth, a source tells Amick that the Raptors never believed the Lakers were truly an option for Leonard. Amick adds that there was also some skepticism within the Clippers’ organization that Kawhi would join the Lakers, albeit not from the club’s top executives.