After hearing concerns from owners and fielding inquiries from top agents over the past several weeks, the NBA has opened an investigation into how free agency operated this summer, multiple league sources told ESPN. The scope of the investigation is still being determined, but sources say it will likely focus on some of the earliest reported deals on June 30 — the first day teams and representatives for free agents are technically allowed to speak. League officials are expected to begin scheduling interviews in the coming days as they seek to gather information, sources said. There is no timetable for its completion.
Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say. The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.
The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said. Marc Lasry, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, spoke of his concern of the gray areas of tampering rules; it was lost on no one in the room that Milwaukee’s franchise player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, could be the most sought-after star in free agency in 2021 if he does not sign an extension before then. Other owners expressed frustration that some deals had apparently been agreed to well before the official start of free agency.
Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later. Buchanan’s tone was not threatening, or aggressive, sources say. He appeared to be offering guidance: This is what strict enforcement might look like.
Some suggested that any family member acting as a player’s de facto representative should have to pass through the union’s certification process for player agents, sources said. Buchanan, sources say, distinguished any situation in which a team were to circumvent the salary cap to provide star players with extra benefits: The league would use all investigative tools at its disposal and use its immense power to punish any team caught doing that. He reminded the governors of this, even though there are no credible allegations of circumvention at this time, sources say.
It isn’t just teams complaining, by the way. Even powerful agents have registered concerns about the timing of free agency to both the players’ union and league office, per several sources. Agents and players benefit from a known and concrete starting point to free agency, too. If some deals are done early, that means cap room vanishes before those acting at the agreed-upon kickoff time even initiate talks.
Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was fined $25,000 by the NBA for commenting about the Russell Westbrook trade before the deal was official, sources confirmed. The league office has not announced the fine, which is for comments Fertitta made to Houston’s Fox 26 after the Rockets agreed to send Chris Paul and two future first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the perennial All-Star point guard.