Adam Silver’s War on Tampering

Updated: December 3, 2021
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The investigation on the Kyle Lowry to Miami and Lonzo Ball to Chicago trades have finally been finalized. Both respective franchises will forfeit their next available 2nd round draft pick for violation of tampering protocol and beginning their sign and trade discussions with New Orleans and Toronto prior to the set date of free agency. Considering these two players arguably are the steals of the offseason, the extra cost of a late 2nd round selection is the equivalent to a 45-dollar parking ticket. No fines were issued for the infractions committed by the Heat or the Bulls, and the additional parties involved, New Orleans who traded Lonzo or Toronto who traded Lowry had any repercussions for clearly holding detailed negotiations prior to free agency.

When these investigations began, I had posted an article on a solution for these tampering issues, essentially promoting transparency. Instead, with this recent verdict of a pair of 2nd rounders sacrificed to the tampering gods in exchange for two of the best backcourt weapons in the Eastern Conference, it appears the commissioner’s stance is similar to the Regan Administrations’ War on Drugs. Essentially, the measures are façades framed and captured for the cameras. The only recent tampering investigations, (the two just mentioned above and last year’s botched Bogdanović sign and trade between Sac and Milwaukee), were started because of how blatant and public the infractions were. These three sign and trades essentially were proof that tampering is occurring across the league, and commissioner Silver seems to only be concerned with hiding this fact rather than putting any measures in motion to change the process.

Ironically, one of the biggest talking points around the War on Tampering is to protect “smaller markets” from getting caught at the back of the line in free agency. Yet, Milwaukee, one of the smaller and less glamorous markets of the NBA got hit tremendously harder when they were caught for tampering as the league canceled the trade which at the time many thought might lead to Giannis Antetokounmpo not signing his super-max extension (they also were forced a 2nd round pick as punishment). If he hadn’t resigned with the Bucks and left the next year in free agency, this botched Bogdanović trade would’ve without a doubt been one of the biggest missteps by a franchise in NBA history and also the biggest influence from big brother and the commissioner’s office.

Luckily all that was avoided, and not only did the Freak sign his supermax, but Milwaukee won the title. However, if Silver just one season prior was setting the precedent that tampering before free agency with sign and trades would not be tolerated, why is Lonzo in Chicago and Lowry in Miami? It was clear the day the trades came in that these discussions had gone back weeks and maybe months before free agency. The fact that anyone who follows the league already knew Lonzo was going to Chicago and Lowry to Miami 48 hours prior to the moves, means even from the outside looking in we knew discussions were happening behind closed doors.

Instead, months later, the Heat and Bulls get hit with a petty theft infraction and give away a 2nd, which is the same price Golden State attached to Eric Pascal for Utah taking his contract in order to create an additional roster spot for the Warriors. It is literally the smallest possible cost of doing business. If Toronto and New Orleans both demanded an additional 2nd rounder to execute the sign and trades both Miami and Chicago would’ve thought about it for a whole 20 seconds before agreeing to the new conditions.

This all may have been swept under the rug, that was until Windhorst’s Hoop Collective Podcast, one of the most listened to pods on the NBA produced by ESPN, spent half of their most recent episode killing Silver for the hypocrisy of this 2nd round decision. Especially with the recent reports coming directly from DeMar DeRozan (who ironically is also now on the Bulls), that he was under the assumption prior to free agency, that he was going home to LA to join Lebron and the Lakers. He only began finalizing the deal he is now on with Chicago after the Russell Westbrook trade went through.

This clearly indicates, that if LA was already in deep trade talks with DeRozan and San Antonio, then they also had tampered with the Washington Wizards, since the Westbrook trade happened moments after the start of free agency. They also were clearly in talks before the start of free agency with Sacramento, since after the Westbrook trade received such a negative response, the biggest push back on the trade was that a Buddy Hield trade was “on the table.”

Very similar to the war on drugs, this tampering charade is all circumstantial and from the outside looking in appears to have a hidden agenda. From the three cases we have, the glamor markets of LA, Miami, and Chicago, essentially getting away with blatant tampering and yet Milwaukee’s trade being shut down which may have resulted in the best player in basketball going to a big market in free agency, what can we take from this? One problem that fans and analysts sometimes forget, is that Adam Silver and the commissioner’s office are not some sort of bi-partisan 3rd party who is only looking to increase the fluidity and beauty of basketball. He works for the billionaire owners of the league and his allegiance like all politicians goes to who pays him the most. Not all these franchises are equal. In fact, the top 10 franchises carry most of the dead weight of the other bottom 20 teams when it comes to the profits the NBA creates.

It would be childish not to at least entertain the fact that everyone outside of Milwaukee who has stock in the profit margins of the league would’ve rather have seen Giannis head to a bigger market. The question is, if the decisions made were simply made by Silver and his team were functioning out of an established ideology of the league, or if they are directly influenced by louder and more wealthy parties at the table. Because the narrative at the moment that the War on Tampering is to protect smaller markets is clearly a farce.

If not, the DeMar DeRozan interview and the reports that followed should have started an investigation with the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Sacramento Kings. And, as was done in Milwaukee with Bogdanović, the Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry sign and trades should’ve been canceled by the NBA just like they decided to do the Bucks less than 1 calendar year prior. But since these actions were not taken, we should be left with a substantial level of suspicion of the dictating ideologies that control the current of the commissioner’s legislation.

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