Just days after the NBA ruled that Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson did not commit a tampering violation for answering a question about Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons, Johnson wasn’t taking any chances when asked for his thoughts on Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker.
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“You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do it, I get fined,” Johnson told Carolina Blitz at an NBA All-Star event Thursday. “But anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So, I’m going to stay away from that one.”
With that in mind, Johnson himself was not having it when he was asked about Kemba Walker by a reporter at an event leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend (via Carolina Blitz): Reporter: I have a question I have to ask you about Kemba Walker– Magic: “You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do, I get fined, but anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m gonna stay away from that one.”
Noah Levick: Ben Simmons walked into the locker room, sat down and said, “That’s like the 10th time Magic has called me today.” After pausing for a second, he clarified that he was, of course, joking.
Alex Kennedy: NBA’s official statement on Magic Johnson/Ben Simmons situation: pic.twitter.com/nUhv5G6c8M
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand called Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson Monday afternoon to apologize for insinuating in a radio interview that the Lakers had called — unprompted — to ask permission for Johnson to speak with Sixers forward Ben Simmons, league sources told ESPN.
In the interview with 97.5 The Fanatic on Monday morning, Brand said, “Rob Pelinka called me and said that Ben wanted to talk to Hall of Famers after the season, Magic was on the list. He asked for authorization … I said no.” He did not mention in that interview that someone from the Sixers, at the urging of one of Simmons’ brothers, had contacted Pelinka first, which is what prompted his call to Brand.
Tania Ganguli: The Lakers are being investigated again. Per NBA spokesman Mike Bass: “The league office is looking into whether any contact took place between Ben Simmons and the Los Angeles Lakers that violated NBA rules.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Elton Brand tells ESPN: “No issue. I have a great relationship with Ben and Rich (Paul) and we expect him to be a Sixer for a long time. He has taken interest in chatting with some of the game’s all-time greats and we’re supportive. I had brief dialogue with Rob Pelinka who I’ve known for a long time, but nothing is planned. Our collective focus is on making a postseason push. Again, we’re not sweating this, end of story.”
“[Lakers general manager] Rob Pelinka called me and said ‘Hey, we’re hearing Ben wants to talk to Hall of Famers, championship-level players, and Magic is on the list. We need authorization for him to meet up.’ And I said ‘No.’ This is over a month ago, so I said no,” Brand explained.
Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry has been fined $25,000 for his comments regarding Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, a source with knowledge told ESPN.
In the aftermath of LeBron James’ public comments on the possibility of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis joining him on the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA sent a memo to NBA teams that warned of consequences for orchestrated tampering campaigns of players under contract elsewhere. In a memo obtained by ESPN on Friday morning, league counsel seemed to be alluding to the James’ scenario, saying, “employment contracts are to be respected and conduct that interferes with contractual employment relationships is prohibited.
Several small market general managers told ESPN last week that they reached out to Pelicans GM Dell Demps to express dismay over what they perceive as the NBA’s tacit endorsement of James’ comments to ESPN that it would be “amazing” and “incredible” if the Lakers could somehow acquire Davis, a five-time All-Star who is currently under contract with the Pelicans through the 2019-20 season. “It’s New Orleans’ problem today, and a problem with a different player tomorrow for the rest of us,” one Eastern Conference GM told ESPN. “It’s open season on small markets and our players.”
The primary link to the Lakers is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who is the player agent for both James and Davis. That connection is a conflict of interest, at least in the view of several teams. “I’m not worried about James tampering to the media about AD. It’s that James and Paul are mafioso mob bosses of the NBA that’s the problem,” a Western Conference general manager said.
Speaking with reporters Friday after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 112-104 win over New Orleans, James was asked if he erred when he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin this week that it would be “amazing” to play with Davis some day. Told that some felt it was wrong for James to talk about another player under contract, James replied, “So?” “What’d I do?” James said. “What did I do? Was it right or wrong?”
“Ask me if I’d like to play with Jimmy Butler,” James said. “Say it right now. Ask me about Kyrie Irving, Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. Ask me about [Joel] Embiid, Ben Simmons. Go ahead, all of them. Luka Doncic. Ask me right now. “Come on, guys, this is not rocket science. These are great players. Absolutely. I would love to play with a lot of great players. That is just who I am. People get caught up in bunches sometimes when they wish they could control what you say, and they can’t control me, at all. “And I play by the rules.”
Harrison Faigen: Alvin Gentry made a point to note that he doesn’t blame LeBron for all this drama. He said it should be noted that “he was asked a question” and that all he did was answer it.
Will Guillory: A Lakers reporter asked about Rajon Rondo and Gentry responded: “I can’t talk about him. He’s under contract.” I don’t want the Tamper Bowl to ever end
That statement didn’t seem to be tampering by even the loosest definition, but it will be interesting to see how the league reacts to Johnson having the following exchange: “Last year at the same time, World Series, you guys had me on and we were talking about who I might bring to the Lakers… And you guys got me LeBron! (laughs)” *a picture of Ortiz with Kevin Durant and LeBron both wearing Lakers jerseys* “Hey, hey, I love that (more laughter)!”
Although Johnson did follow it up with this: “I’ve already been fined enough.” We’ll see if the NBA agrees, although the following defenses would seem to work in Johnson’s favor: He never said anyone’s name, so maybe he’s just a fake jersey photoshop image enthusiast! He may have just been admiring the graphic design work.
The Los Angeles Lakers recently called an organizational meeting warning all employees about possible tampering ahead of a free agent signing period in which they are expected to play a key role, with the ability to sign two superstars, sources with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.
Silver, in a studio sit-down Thursday with ESPN’s The Jump, said the Los Angeles Lakers’ previous tampering incident in which they were fined $500,000 was considered but that the rule Johnson breached in an interview with ESPN was simple. “Context is everything, and there had been a prior issue with the Lakers early this season,” Silver said. “And the message is — not just to Magic but to all the executives in the league is — stop talking about players on other teams.”
Jeff Zillgitt: Lakers fined again for tampering – $50K this time for comments Magic Johnson made about Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George said Wednesday that the Indiana Pacers suspected his relationship with Los Angeles Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw constituted tampering over the summer, but the league investigation found no evidence of tampering by Shaw, multiple sources told ESPN. “They thought it was tampering,” George said after the Thunder shootaround before their game in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). “There was no tampering at all. It was kinda crazy. Our relationship, myself and B-Shaw, was far more stronger than the teams, me coming to the Lakers was. B-Shaw has been a mentor for me, so it was kind of comical.
“The Pacers thought there was more depth, of him trying to recruit me. It wasn’t. The only thing me and B-Shaw ever spoke about was fishing. We challenge each other on fishing trips. B-Shaw has way, way better class than trying to recruit me.”
Adds a current Eastern Conference GM: “You don’t get free agents without it. [Tampering] is what the whole league is built on. That’s the only way you can get anything done.” That’s why the executives contacted by B/R were surprised the Pacers demanded an investigation by the league at all. One called it “bush league.” Several others opined that the Pacers must’ve had some hard-proof evidence. Almost all presumed owner Herb Simon was simply too irate about George’s proclamation that he would leave in free agency to let him go quietly.
While there have been previous instances where teams were upset they lost a star player and suspected the recruiting process began well before his contract officially expired, most have swallowed their anger rather than draw added attention to the fact they were spurned or invite similar scrutiny. “You better be careful what you ask for,” says the former GM. “That kind of disclosure becomes a two-way street. You sure you want the league to look at every phone call and email you’ve sent?”
Since the Lakers were hit with a $500,000 fine for tampering with Paul George, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson says, he has given the matter little thought except for one thing: He doesn’t want his close friend and boss, Jeanie Buss, to bear the burden of the fine.
“We can’t say a lot but we will correct the situation,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s under my watch. I apologize to Jeanie, and that was the main thing. I told her she could take it out of my salary because I don’t want the Lakers to be paying that fine. … I don’t want her spending $500,000, because she didn’t do anything. That’s on me.”
The league also said it had previously warned the Lakers after Johnson joked with Jimmy Kimmel on the late-night host’s talk show about what communication he is allowed to have with George if they would see each other in the offseason. “This is just on a late-night show being funny,” Johnson said after touring a donation facility he helped organize with West Angeles Church to benefit victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. “But now I know I can’t do that. We’re OK. I haven’t thought twice about it. We made a mistake. … It’s under my watch. I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
The league’s investigation found that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, had discussions in which George’s name came up and Pelinka offered a “prohibited expression of interest” to Mintz. The finding comes off a little like a state trooper pulling over a single car for speeding when the flow of traffic is all pushing 80, or the NCAA targeting a specific program for a probe while infractions run rampant among all its competitors in the conference in which it plays. That is to say, if there is a rule in place that can’t be universally enforced, those who do get caught for breaking it end up as almost sympathetic characters in a way.
One Western Conference executive reached for comment Thursday night told ESPN that the league was “at least trying to get serious” about tampering, but added that the proper penalty for what the Lakers did should be $1 million or the loss of a second-round pick at the least to serve as a “true deterrent” to keep other teams from doing the same. Another Eastern Conference GM suggested some sort of suspension system be put in place.
Here is what Peter Vecsey, who was the first to report on the issue, said about potential punishments (via Patreon): “If deemed guilty, the Lakers’ franchise could be docked multiple draft picks (Timberwolves lost five first-rounders, got two back, but were shut out of draft in 2001, ’02 & ’04), their hierarchy could be suspended for a year or more (like T’Wolf owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale and a team lawyer for entering into a fraudulent series of contracts with Joe Smith) and fined millions (it cost Wolves $3.5M). The most severe punishment could be forbidding the Lakers to sign George when he’s free next summer.”
Tania Ganguli: Pacers triggered the Lakers tampering investigation, so I asked for their comment. From GM Pritchard: “We accept the league’s findings.”
Rob Pelinka: “We respect and accept the NBA’s decision regarding this matter. On behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers, I want to express our regret over this unfortunate incident to both our fans and the NBA.”
Sam Amick: This is 2nd largest tampering fine in league history (Minny/Joe Smith saga in 2000 was $3.5 mil & 3 picks). It’s in top 15 fines all time.
Ira Winderman: Lakers fined $500,000 by NBA for tampering issue with Paul George. But ruling does not preclude Los Angeles from eventually signing George.
BTW, Pacers initiated this tampering investigation around the draft. We’re just learning of it now.
Still, it’s necessary, and it’s especially necessary in a league where players are forever angling to align themselves with existing super teams. It’s especially necessary for small- and mid-market teams to hold big-market teams’ feet to the fire in these cases. All over the league, teams like Indiana, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake are losing their star players, creating a very uneven playing field and giving rise to the super team phenomenon. In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”
“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.” The only difference between what teams usually do and this is that a complaint was filed, and the league must investigate. It’s possible that Magic slipped somewhere with an incriminating text or email. After all, he even went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and joked about tampering.
Tampering is hard, if not impossible to prove. “If there’s a paper trail, then it’ll be a thing,” said one league executive, adding he doubts there were any distinct emails or texts that implicate Magic. “No paper trail, no problem.”
The Lakers have been under investigation by the NBA for tampering allegations since May because of a conversation Magic Johnson had on a television show about then-Indiana All-Star forward Paul George that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing matter. The interview took place in April. Team officials aren’t allowed to make contact with a player or their representatives until the free-agency period opens on July 1.
The lawyers from the NBA and the outside counsel the Lakers hired to review the matter each deposed owner Jeanie Buss, Johnson, who is the president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka in May, according to the officials.
According to several NBA officials, it would be difficult to prove that the Lakers have tampered with George. The officials also said the Lakers could be fined and have draft picks taken away if it is tampering allegations are proven.
The following statement was issued today by Alison Bogli, Director, Media Relations regarding the NBA’s investigation into the teams’ alleged tampering violation: “As the NBA’s statement made clear, we cannot comment about the specifics of any ongoing investigation. We can confirm, however, that we are cooperating fully with the NBA in the hope of clearing our name as soon as possible.”
The possibility of impermissible contact between Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and four-time All-Star Paul George is at the crux of an NBA probe into possible tampering, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.
The Indiana Pacers filed tampering charges with the NBA against the Lakers, and the league issued a statement Sunday saying that a probe is underway. The Lakers are denying the allegations filed by the Pacers, insisting that there is no evidence of tampering, and they expect to be cleared in the matter, a team source told ESPN.
If the league office’s probe can prove that the Lakers were guilty of tampering with George while under contract with Indiana, Los Angeles can be punished in several ways, including a loss of draft picks, financial fines up to $5 million or even future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.
“At the request of the Indiana Pacers, the NBA opened an investigation into alleged tampering by the Los Angeles Lakers,” the NBA said in an official released Sunday afternoon. “The independent investigation is being conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made. We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting while the investigation is ongoing.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Story with @Ramona Shelburne soon on ESPN. Lakers are adamantly denying charges. Tampering story first reported by Peter Vecsey.
Peter Vecsey: Pacers’ owner, chairman and CEO, Herb Simon, recently filed charges against the Lakers for purportedly tampering with rising free agent Paul George. An independent law firm, hired by the league, is in the midst of a comprehensive investigation regarding the seemingly apparent impropriety, which might last three weeks or longer, according to a source. This info also was corroborated.
Peter Vecsey: NBA investigating Lakers 4 purported tampering w PGeorge. Independent law firm handling interviews of Buss, Magic. patreon.com/petervecsey
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February 22, 2019 | 9:34 pm EST Update
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