Thursday the NBA announced the Los Angeles Lakers have been fined $500,000 for tampering with a player under contract with the Indiana Pacers by the name of Paul George who had informed the latter he would be leaving for Los Angeles when his contract expires next summer.
The Pacers had a right to be upset and filed a complaint with the league.
What value are contracts to anyone if the next destination is only a whisper or a season away?
Coming up on free agency next summer, George apparently prepicked his destination the way the Pacers brought him to Indiana from Fresno State. He had no choice where he began his career but now he will get to choose his next stop.
The only problem is the Lakers can’t indicate their interest, that’s called tampering. They know it. George knows it.
As is often the case the team did more for player than player for team. Paul George flourished in his initial seasons in blue and gold but eventually it became a question whether a) he cared b) he was going to play all out c) was defense going to be optional. Additionally, there were questions if he was ever going to be the guy a team could build around or would he be a supporting cast member to a megastar.
We may get that answer as George suits up as Robin next to Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City for at least one season in ’17-’18.
$500,000 is a token gesture but it will not affect a Lakers franchise adversely. The Lakers are worth $3 billion according to Forbes and bring in revenues around $350 million a season.
It’s a guilty verdict but it probably does nothing to prevent teams from communicating with players under contract be it go betweens such as player to player or agent to GM.
On the surface we have a large market, perhaps only rivaled by New York, attempting to pluck a small market’s best player.
If the NBA wanted to send a message, and they clearly do not, they would have dinged a first-round pick. Alas, George is not actually in a Laker uniform yet so perhaps the league felt it could only do so much to the Lakers.
NBA free-agency drives fan engagement and the offseason chatter but tampering also undermines the business model. The NBA’s biggest Achilles heel right now is the concentration of talent. Keeping things on a level playing field will go a long way to counteract that.