Commentary: NBA needs to severly punish those who tamper

  • The New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis (23) muscles to the hoop during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons on February 21, 2016, at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

The Charlotte Observer
Monday, February 18, 2019

NBA commissioner Adam Silver knows he has a problem when 1½ seasons before Anthony Davis’ contract expires, his agent says publicly one of the league’s superstars wants out of New Orleans.

Silver said on Saturday night, at a news conference related to All-Star Weekend, he believes that problem is fixable. It’s certainly addressable. Fixable? I wonder.

I asked Silver during the question-and-answer period about both what Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, said publicly that got Davis fined $50,000 and about recent tampering issues, including two involving the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the team’s coveting Davis.

Silver said he saw tampering and agents going public with trade demands as “two very different topics.” I disagree.

To me, tampering and agent behavior is a spark and kindling. You need both to make a fire, and the blaze attacking the New Orleans Pelicans right now is troubling.

There is nothing wrong with Davis informing the Pelicans he doesn’t intend to re-sign there after the conclusion of his contract. Davis has given that team 6½ seasons, and he believes his chances of winning something significant in the balance of his career relies on him starting over. Fine.

But making all this public, creating a “spectacle,” to use Silver’s word on Saturday, is terrible business for the NBA, no matter how much attention and drama it drew to the league at the trade deadline.

Davis’ representatives going public put the Pelicans in a box, creating artificial urgency to make a deal. That just as easily could have been the Charlotte Hornets in such a predicament. Now, the Pelicans have to navigate an absurd situation: Should they continue playing Davis, since his only real value now is as a trade commodity? How do you manage fan reaction? How long can you live with all the collateral damage, with this situation already costing general manger Dell Demps his job?

Silver said on Saturday he believes he has the tools to deal with tampering. If that’s so, then I think he should use them more forcefully. I don’t believe fines will change behavior. Take away a team’s draft pick, at least a second-rounder, if you really want to send a message about tampering being unacceptable.

Silver was right when he said on Saturday that players asking off teams is nothing new. But the temperature of these situations has risen. It touches on competitive balance among the 30 franchises, which covers a broad spectrum of revenue generation and agendas.

That’s where this comes back to Charlotte. The Hornets might never be a preferred destination for free agents, but they need a fighting chance to retain home-grown talent or they become farm teams for the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, etc.

“Can we do a better job as a league where competition is fair for all 30 teams? I do think, over time, we’ll do an even better job there,” Silver said.

I think it’s imperative Silver is held to that, and it will involve tough talks with the players association about the sanctity of contracts. He used the word “corrosive” during his remarks on Saturday, which is a term his predecessor, David Stern, loved. I certainly agree this is how systems of balance — what Silver likes to call “parity of opportunity” — become corroded.

Is there anything wrong with a veteran switching teams, whether it’s about winning, money or lifestyle? Of course not. Is there something wrong with the carnage recent manipulative behavior is having on the Pelicans?

Absolutely. Something more must be addressed.