OKC Thunder likely among teams invested in decision by NBA to review tampering

OKC Thunder Clayton Bennett (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder Clayton Bennett (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

One of the hot topics at the NBA Board of Governors meeting this past week was tampering given the events of free agency and effect on small markets. As such, the OKC Thunder should be very invested in what happens moving forward.

When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was agreed to in the summer of 2017 all parties were satisfied the league was in great shape. The new CBA began in 2017-18 with a seven-year term ending in 2023-24 although either the NBA Board of Governors or the NBPA (Players Association) have the choice to opt-out a season prior (2022–23) if so desired.  The main features of the new CBA dealt with player contracts and alterations were made so that small market teams like the OKC Thunder could capitalize and the league would hopefully offer more parity and balance.

As it turns out that latter statement hasn’t proven to pan out especially with top tier players and was punctuated with the events of this past season and free agency. The thinking was the supermax deals would offer the best in the business an opportunity to be rewarded for their prowess and for their drafting teams to retain their services. This was particularly appealing to smaller market teams who have less of an edge to attract free agents over big markets.

Supermax deals don’t appear to be working:

In fact, of the players who took early advantage of the supermax two were in small markets including OKC Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook and the Wizards John Wall. Portland may also be considered a small market and they subsequently retained Damian Lillard with his supermax contract while James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors) were the other players who’ve joined the group capitalizing on the supermax benefit.

However, a number of players who were in play for this contact elected to forego the supermax, demanding trades prior to the season where they would be eligible (if they met the requirements) such as Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Paul George. In some cases, teams like the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins removing his opportunity and others like the Hornets chose to low ball their offer which subsequently led to Kemba Walker‘s trade to the Celtics.

Suffice to say the stars aren’t as excited by these contracts seemingly indicating they feel large markets offer greater opportunities for sponsorship which can far outweigh contract deals.

This choice by the elite stars is very concerning for the smaller markets and the situation got worse in the past month as it became abundantly clear players, teams and agents are ignoring the rules regarding colluding and tampering well ahead of the moratorium.

Tampering is rampant:

Why else would so many players be able to announce their new landing spots within the first few minutes of the moratorium beginning? Given so many free agent announcements (including contract details) occurred prior to the time teams were legally allowed to begin talking it points to the fact the current process is being ignored. As Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated wonderful article points out if you’re a team or free agent who follows the rules while others are ignoring them you’re already at a disadvantage.

"The NBA’s core goal is to maximize the overall health of the league so that it functions optimally, even if getting to that outcome might advantage certain teams and disadvantage others in how they compete. An optimal league is one where every team has a credible opportunity to compete and where fans believe the competition is genuine, as opposed to scripted or pre-determined."

More concerning, of the top eight players who moved this summer, five stars left small markets (Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George) to land in one of New York or LA.

While I’m not sure the League or Adam Silver are that concerned given those markets are the ones predominantly shown on National TV (and let’s face it that’s who Silver wants to appease the most given the TV contracts fuel the NBA and sponsors feed the TV networks). Still, it’s concerning since outside the two teams in each of LA and New York the majority are situated outside those markets.

In fact, for the big risks OKC Thunder GM, Sam Presti and Raptors lead man Masai Ujiri made to land a top tier star it ended up resulting in both leaving – to play on the same team no less. Toronto at least has the benefit of winning a title and an upcoming summer where they’ll have the lowest salary with an option of rebuilding. Granted, Leonard was one of only two (Al Horford) top tier free agents who exited their incumbent teams without ensuring something came back via a sign and trade. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, D’Angelo Russell, Kemba Walker, and Jimmy Butler all went this route.

Players hold ALL the power:

But for the Thunder, the situation and how it played out is concerning. Paul George who re-signed last summer gave Sam Presti no choice by demanding a trade and made this even more difficult by insisting his destination be with the Clippers. Sure, Presti could’ve said no – but if he had then it’s likely PG would’ve made his trade demand public removing all the leverage Presti had. Similarly, while Davis provided a shortlist of teams the reality was he only wanted to play for the Lakers.

As for the tampering, rumor has it each of the Raptors and Lakers weren’t happy with being held hostage for days while Leonard and George plotted to get to the Clippers. In spite of the record haul of picks Sam Presti received and desire to get out from under the luxury tax situation, he can’t be thrilled this situation was dictated by George, not the franchise.

When I heard Stephen A. Smith state Leonard’s uncle was demanding the teams to jump through hoops to get him a residence, plane or confirmed sponsorship (all things which violate the CBA by the way) I wondered if Uncle Dennis was working off what happened in Toronto with the community’s efforts to keep him via the Ka-Wine and Dine campaign where the star could eat for free (for life) at numerous restaurants and other offers poured in like the realtor who offered a free multi-million dollar condo for the star.

Leonard states none of these items are true and the media fueled it all. Still, if the stars aren’t going to honor deals they sign and teams, players and agents collude well ahead of the moratorium it sure doesn’t leave fans of small markets with the feeling they are operating on an even playing field.

Hypocrisy reins supreme:

One team said to have been among the teams complaining was the Boston Celtics over the Al Horford move to the 76ers. The problem here is the Celtics are equally guilty given Kemba Walker’s move to Boston was already being reported the day prior to the moratorium beginning. Pot — meet kettle. As per Dan Feldman of NBC Sports who points out the hypocrisy.

"This is the game. Teams are generally clear to talk to players after the season, even though that’s technically against the rules. The Celtics cut the same corners as nearly everyone else. It’s ludicrous for Boston to complain about Horford’s departure, as if Walker didn’t arrive the same way."

Likewise, had the Lakers landed Leonard it’s a certainty they wouldn’t be talking.  Oh, they of the same rumor leaks during the Anthony Davis situation.

Suffice to say this situation isn’t going to be an easy one to resolve, although the suggestion free agency should occur before the NBA Draft makes a ton of sense. In fact, one of the best suggestions would be for Free Agency and the NBA Draft to switch places in terms of timing. At least that way franchise would know who they already had on their roster prior to drafting.

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Moving forward, I’m not even sure how this situation can be avoided. Players will talk and make their plans. Often these chats begin during World Championship and Olympic team participation.

But, now that the teams like the Clippers go unpunished for active recruitment in season (the Clippers were front and center at more than 75 percent of Leonard’s games this season) where exactly will the line be drawn?

LeBron James good friend Rich Paul heads Klutch Sports. It’s hard not to imagine James is a factor here – – look at the cast of Space Jam 2 or current Laker signings for players who are with Klutch as an example.

If I’m a small market owner like Clay Bennett of the OKC Thunder, my concern arises with the league headed toward removing the one and done requirement likely by the summer of 2022. Will this mean teams will emulate what the Clippers did this season and recruit at high school games? And, will superstars like LeBron James start attending high school games to help impress youngsters to sign with his friend’s agency?

Next. 2019 NBA Free Agency – Live tracker, updated daily. dark

Let’s just say there is a big can of worms sitting on Adam Silver’s desk and unless he plans on hooking up with Paul George for a fishing trip he needs to figure out something — quickly!