At a news conference Friday, Silver said that the measures, approved unanimously, are an expression of the league’s desire to “ensure that we’re creating a culture of compliance” and to establish a “level playing field” in free agency for all 30 teams.
Under the new guidelines, the NBA league office has the power to suspend executives, void contracts, take away draft picks and fine a team up to $10 million if it is caught violating the league’s tampering rules. The maximum fine amount was raised from $5 million under the previous framework.
In addition to the possible punishments, NBA teams will now be expected to report any and all violations of the tampering rules by agents, to provide annual certification from lead executives that they have adhered to the rules and to retain records of their contact with agents and rival teams for a full year. Five teams each season will also be subjected to a random audit to ensure their communications are above board.
Tampering was a hot-button issue throughout the 2018-19 season and offseason, as big-market teams jockeyed to land superstars like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in months-long pursuits.
In one high-profile incident, Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was fined $50,000 for making public comments about then-Toronto Raptors forward Leonard. The Clippers later signed Leonard as a free agent. In another, then-New Orleans Pelicans forward Davis was fined $50,000 for making a public trade request in January through his agent. Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, long said to be his preferred destination, in June.
Silver and the league office were also concerned by the flood of agreements that greeted the start of the agency period. Under the NBA’s guidelines, free agents cannot communicate with suitors before June 30 and cannot officially sign new contracts until after a seven-day moratorium has passed. By July 1, NBA teams and players had already agreed to more than $3 billion worth of new agreements, with some of those deals being announced within minutes after the opening bell on June 30. In many cases, teams and players acknowledged that they had not even bothered to conduct formal meetings.
As a result, tampering rules, long a sore spot for small-market teams and fan bases, appeared more toothless than ever.
“The tampering optics looked bad and [the league office] had to clean it up,” one league executive said. “I think we’ll see a more compliant environment because no GM wants to be the first one caught. But I can promise no one is going to report an agent.”
One NBA coach suggested that the new guidelines will do little to curb player-to-player contact, a significant aspect of modern free agency. Another executive noted that agents will be able to find workarounds to indirectly express their clients’ interest to team personnel during unauthorized time periods. Still, the general sense among league personnel was that the NBA’s more intensive rules structure and increased punishments were worthwhile steps.
Silver said that while the NBA has broad investigatory power to root out egregious tampering violations — including the ability to seize electronic devices — he remains cognizant of privacy concerns. The league’s aim with its new rules, the commissioner explained, was to create an “appropriate amount of tension” and to establish a “significant threat” in hopes of discouraging improper activity by teams.
“None of us want people looking into our private affairs,” Silver said. “I am not interested in looking in any aspects of people’s life outside of what is relevant to the operation of their teams. I’m not looking to take devices. But I think people who operate in a public company environment, who operate in a financial world, who are used to compliance procedures, understand that you have to find the right balance of disclosure and privacy.”