In response to tampering complaints, the NBA is investigating some of the earliest agreements reached in free agency, according to Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The process will include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees as well.
Suspicions were raised as some free agent deals were announced immediately upon the arrival of the negotiating period, which began at 6pm Eastern Time on June 30. A few agreements were leaked ahead of that hour, prompting questions about the legality of the process.
The announcement of the investigation came after a “tense” owners meeting in Las Vegas in which everyone present was encouraged to express their grievances. Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who lost Kemba Walker to a quickly announced deal with the Celtics, suggested the need to alter the way free agency is conducted in the next collective bargaining agreement. Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, who could have the top free agent in 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo hits the market, discussed “gray areas” of the current rules against tampering.
NBA general counsel Rick Buchanan reminded teams that they are all expected to abide by the rules and promised a revised set of regulations that will be strictly enforced. He mentioned “seizing servers and cellphones” to track any illegal contact that teams might make.
Other possible solutions being considered by the league include:
- Allowing teams to negotiate with their own free agents after the Finals have concluded. Some executives and agents admit that the free agent process now unofficially begins at the draft combine in May when meetings over potential picks expand into talk about free agent clients.
- Holding free agency before the draft. The Rockets submitted a formal proposal to enact this change last year, but only got support from 10 teams, sources tell Lowe and Windhorst.
- Cutting back the moratorium, which extended this year from June 30 to July 6. It exists to give the league time to account for all its revenue from the previous season and set an accurate salary cap.
- Granting teams more time and more freedom to talk with free agents before they officially reach the market.
Several teams also complained about the new trend toward family members serving as virtual agents and making requests not covered by the CBA. Some used Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle, Dennis Robertson, as an example, but the authors point out that there have been many other similar cases. Commissioner Adam Silver admitted that “things are being discussed that don’t fall squarely within the collective bargaining agreement.” There was sentiment at the meeting to require family members who assume that role to go through the union’s agent certification process.