LAS VEGAS -- If members of LeBron James' entourage get hired by the Miami Heat, the NBA wouldn't rule out opening an investigation into possible salary-cap circumvention, a high-ranking official familiar with the league's thinking told CBSSports.com Friday.
While league officials are not actively pursuing any tampering charges related to James' decision to sign with the Heat -- and, in fact, have received no complaints that would trigger such a probe -- it wouldn't be surprising to see an investigation related to any jobs given to people in James' circle of advisers. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the league would not need a team to lodge a complaint to launch such an investigation.
In a detailed account of the Heat's nearly two-year effort to recruit James to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, Yahoo! Sports on Friday quoted an NBA front office executive who said he wants the league to examine whether Heat president Pat Riley promised jobs or other benefits to members of James' camp as part of his recruiting pitch.
“You can’t promise jobs or preferential services outside of a contract or a job for a friend," the team executive told Yahoo! Sports. "If that’s part of the deal, it’s a violation.”
The penalties for such side deals designed to circumvent salary-cap rules are severe. In 2000, the Minnesota Timberwolves were fined $3.5 million and lost three draft picks after disclosure of a written deal with free agent Joe Smith. The arrangement called for Smith to play under three consecutive one-year contracts, after which it was agreed that the team would use his Bird rights to sign him to a multi-year deal to make up for the money he'd left on the table. Owner Glen Taylor and then-GM Kevin McHale agreed to leaves of absence in order to get back two other draft picks that had been taken away as part of the penalty. In addition to forfeiture of draft picks, league rules call for a maximum fine of $5 million, voiding the contract of the player in question, and up to a one-year suspension of any team officials involved.
One impediment to prosecuting such a case against the Heat -- if and when members of James' camp are hired for any jobs -- is that it will be difficult to prove it is any different from what the Cavs did to appease James when he played for them. One member of James' circle of friends, Randy Mims, was employed by the Cavs as a "player liaison." The hiring was never investigated, and the Cavs were never subject to any punishment for the arrangement.
While the Hawks have ruled out paying luxury tax to sign Shaquille O'Neal -- or any other free agent, for that matter -- the organization hasn't shut the door completely on bringing Shaq to Atlanta, a person familiar with the team's thinking told CBSSports.com. If O'Neal were to lower his asking price from the mid-level exception -- starting at about $5.8 million -- to the bi-annual exception of about $1.9 million, the Hawks would be interested in exploring such a signing. Atlanta would be able to pay O'Neal the bi-annual exception -- or a portion of its mid-level -- and avoid paying luxury tax. But the current ownership group has never paid luxury tax and doesn't plan to begin paying it now. Also, the Hawks haven't discussed -- nor are they interested in -- a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Cavs that would cost them a piece of their young core, sources say.
The Raptors continue to explore several potential trade scenarios involving point guard Jose Calderon, who was going to be dealt to the Bobcats earlier this week before Charlotte owner Michael Jordan backed out of the deal. Interest from potential trade partners has been lukewarm, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. ... Wizards assistant GM Tommy Sheppard and Kings assistant GM Jason Levien will interview for the Hornets' GM opening, two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed to CBSSports.com. Hornets president Hugh Weber already has spoken with Spurs executive Dell Demps and plans to speak with former Trail Blazers execs Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn, as well as former Suns exec David Griffin, sources said. Weber, according to one of the sources, is hoping to have the process wrapped up quickly, perhaps as soon as Sunday. ... Demps has spoken with Suns officials about that team's opening for a personnel man to work under incoming team president Lon Babby, a former player agent.