IndyStar’s Gregg Doyel says the Indiana Pacers couldn’t take subtle hints about Paul George. WXIN/WTTV
INDIANAPOLIS — After the news broke Sunday about Paul George’s looming departure from the Indiana Pacers, fans of the team began to voice frustration, depression and anger on social media.
George intends to leave the Pacers as a free agent after next season with the expressed preference of joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. In conjunction with previous comments by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations, the news caused a large segment of those Pacers fans to wonder about tampering.
Did the Lakers entice George to leave the Pacers? What about Johnson’s public comments about George and the Lakers? Could the Lakers be fined or penalized by the NBA?
That’s unlikely to happen, according to multiple league sources.
The Pacers, according to a source, are more concerned about finding a team or multiple teams to help facilitate a trade that would bring them the most compensation possible in exchange for George. Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers’ new president, engaged with several teams Monday about potential trades involving George, according to a source. Pritchard is hoping to have a trade agreement in place before Thursday’s draft.
As of Monday afternoon, the Pacers had not contacted the NBA about the possibility that the Lakers tampered with George, who has one year left on his contract with Indiana.
George, who is from Palmdale, Calif., had his agent, Aaron Mintz, inform Pritchard on Saturday that he wants his next destination to be a homecoming with the Lakers, a franchise that has won 16 championships. George at several points has mentioned his friendship with Johnson and his admiration for Kobe Bryant, the former Laker who won five titles in Los Angeles.
Johnson went to his Twitter account within an hour of an initial report about George’s intentions on Sunday by Yahoo’s “The Vertical.”
“God is so good!” Johnson wrote, which had fans, analysts and conspiracy theorists contemplating possible tampering.
More directly, Johnson had acknowledged in a late-night TV interview in April that he would love for George to be a Laker. He winked several times when answering a question about George and said that such a gesture would be understood after he said hello to George if the two see one another this summer in Los Angeles. After next season, George could sign a four-year deal with the Lakers worth as much as $130 million.
Johnson also said in the interview that he had to learn the NBA’s rules, as a new executive, when it came to discussing players not on the Lakers roster.
Paul George has been with the Indiana Pacers for seven seasons. Here are his honors and averages Scott Horner/IndyStar
“I had to go to CBA school, salary cap school and tampering school,” Johnson said, laughing. “You can’t tamper with somebody else’s player.”
The NBA has handed down punishments to several teams about tampering with players. The league, in a memo, shared its definition of tampering to teams in 2013:
“Article 35A of the NBA Constitution states that it’s a violation of the league’s anti-tampering rule for any person affiliated with an NBA team to directly or indirectly (i) entice, induce, or persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any player, coach, GM or other person under contract to any other NBA team to enter into negotiations for or relating to that person’s services or to negotiate or contract for such services, or (ii) otherwise interfere with the employment relationship between that employee and the other NBA team.”
The constitution states that penalties for tampering include suspension of the offending person, prohibition of the offending team from hiring the person being tampered with, forfeiture of draft picks and team fines of up to $5 million.
A source said the only action the NBA could take at this point is to issue a warning to Johnson and the Lakers.
Johnson’s comments, however, don’t seem much different from what then-Sacramento Kings coach Michael Malone said in a news conference about Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul to earn a fine in 2013. Malone said Paul would “look pretty good in a Sacramento Kings uniform.” The amount of the fine was not announced.
The Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets were also fined for tampering in 2013.
A letter sent by a Hawks employee to season ticket holders mentioned Paul and Lakers’ center Dwight Howard as possible signees in free agency.
“With massive cap space, 4 draft picks, and free agency rapidly approaching, we sit in the best position in the NBA,” read the Hawks’ letter, sent via email. “Player interest is skyrocketing as the possibilities of landing Chris Paul & Dwight Howard become more and more of a reality.”
The Rockets reportedly were fined for articles that appeared on the team’s website previewing free agency.
Other infractions include the Toronto Raptors being fined $25,000 in 2014 for comments that hip-hop artist Drake made during his concert about Kevin Durant. As the Raptors’ global brand ambassador, Drake encouraged the audience to chant “KD!” after he encouraged Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join Toronto’s franchise.
“My brother Kevin Durant was kind enough to come to the show tonight and watch us,” Drake said then. “I just want him to see what would happen if he came to play in Toronto.”
When The Miami Heat were discovered to have tampered with Pat Riley in 1995 by negotiating with him when he was still the coach of the New York Knicks, the Heat agreed to compensate the Knicks with $1 million and their first-round draft pick in 1996 to avoid a penalty from the league.
Call IndyStar reporter Nate Taylor at (317) 444-6484. Follow him on Twitter: @ByNateTaylor.
Nate Taylor and Clifton Brown break down Paul George’s next moves and look ahead to the 2017 NBA Draft. Clifton Brown, Nate Taylor/IndyStar