LeBron James’ recent comments about the possibility of playing alongside Anthony Davis reportedly ruffled some feathers across the NBA.
James said before the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night it’d be “amazing” and “incredible” if his team acquired Davis, who can test free agency after the 2019-20 season but has been the subject of trade rumors for a while.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, these comments drew the ire of several small-market general managers, who privately expressed outrage over what they believe is the NBA’s unwillingness to enforce the league’s tampering rules.
“There is no confidence among most of us — if not all of us — that the league cares about protecting our interests,” one small-market GM told ESPN. “It’s hard enough already to hold onto the kind of players we need to try and win with — but (the league) doesn’t do anything to help.”
On the surface, James’ comments might seem harmless. After all, who wouldn’t want to play alongside a player as talented as Davis? The Lakers seemingly have the pieces to pull off a trade, and the Western Conference seems more wide open than years past, with the Golden State Warriors looking mortal.
But those comments actually might be detrimental to New Orleans’ effort to re-sign Davis, as the ensuing coverage forces the organization to answer questions — both internally and externally — about a player under team control through next season, potentially creating an awkward environment that lessens New Orleans’ chances of retaining said player once free agency rolls around.
The NBA bylaws governing players states: “Any Player who, directly or indirectly, entices, induces, persuades or attempts to entice, induce or persuade any Player, Coach, Trainer, General Manager, or any other person who is under contract to any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services shall, on being charged with such tampering, should be given an opportunity to answer to such charges after due notice and the Commissioner shall have the power to decide whether or not the charges have been sustained …”
So, why hasn’t the NBA punished James and/or the Lakers?
An NBA spokesperson told ESPN on Friday: “Each case is assessed on its own facts. In general, absent evidence of team coordination or other aggravating factors, it is not tampering when a player makes a comment about his interest in playing with another team’s player.”
This explanation probably won’t sit well with those who expressed outrage to ESPN. According to Wojnarowski, there’s a broad belief among smaller-market GMs that the NBA doesn’t just condone the public wooing of star players toward big markets, it also encourages the practice.