The NBA office issued a memo to all 30 teams Tuesday reminding them of the league's tampering policy and warning of steep penalties that would result from illegal contact with Chris Paul or his representatives.
It was a welcome development, no doubt, for the New Orleans Hornets, who are dealing with their disgruntled point guard's desire to be traded. I'd also have to guess it generated a day-late, dollar-short reaction in Cleveland, where the Cavs will be reeling for a decade or longer from the suspicious departure of LeBron James to Miami.
The memo issued Tuesday, first reported by ESPN.com, was similar to one sent in December 2008 warning teams about commenting publicly on prospective free agents under contract with other teams and outlining the penalties for making contact with such players. League policy calls for penalties up to and including loss of draft picks, the voiding of player contracts and a maximum fine of $5 million for discussing transactions with players under contract without consent of their teams. The 2008 memo was in response to growing public commentary by team executives regarding the free-agent class of 2010, which of course included James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Paul, through his new agent, Leon Rose, informed the Hornets recently that he wants to be traded and gave the team a list of preferred destinations. Paul and Rose met Monday in New Orleans with Hornets president Hugh Weber, GM Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams to hash out their differences. Not surprisingly, everyone emerged from the meeting saying they've all agreed to get along. But we know better, and so does the league office. Sources told CBSSports.com that Monday's meeting did not quell Paul's desire to push for a trade and this his representatives planned to continue applying pressure to get him out of New Orleans. The league memo Tuesday only underscored the reality facing the Hornets.
But under league rules, such conversations can only be initiated or approved by the Hornets. So on Tuesday, the league made a strong statement in defense of an organization that faces an uphill battle in keeping its franchise player happy. The last thing Demps and Williams need is to have Rose and William Wesley recruiting trade partners through back channels -- which is how much of the business of the league is done.
"This kind of thing happens all the time," said a person within the NBA. "But the league wants to have more control over the players. They don't want players working behind the scenes to get themselves traded."
That train, it could be argued, whizzed past the station long ago.
So why such a strong stance against tampering with Paul when nothing has been done to investigate whether James was tampered with prior to his "decision" to join Wade and Bosh with the Heat? One possible explanation is that once a case of alleged tampering has occurred, standard procedure is to investigate only after the offended team files a tampering charge. The Cavs never complained publicly or to the league about a reported meeting last November attended by James, Michael Jordan and Heat president Pat Riley. Another reported meeting last month involving James, Wade and Bosh would be more difficult to probe because league tampering rules essentially are aimed at teams and team executives. Meetings and conversations among players are more difficult to police. Nonetheless, the Cavs have no plans to file tampering charges, preferring instead to focus on moving forward with their post-LeBron plans.
The Hornets, meanwhile, are just trying to get through each day without Rose pitching possible trade scenarios for Paul to competing franchises.
Conversations this summer between James and Paul -- which presumably led Paul to drop his association with Octagon and hire Rose as his agent -- would be difficult, if not impossible, to tie to any kind of tampering. The league obviously can't control agents like Rose and operatives like Wesley as closely as it can monitor its teams' executives. So a memo like this warning teams to leave Paul alone is the best that can be done, I suppose. Is it mostly for show? Yes, mostly. The NBA grapevine is a free-for-all, with illegal conversations that can't be adequately policed happening all the time. But at least for now, the league's stance theoretically will provide a chilling effect to what has become the Summer of CP3.
It may or may not help the Hornets keep their star point guard. It won't, however, do anything to help the Cavs get over the loss of LeBron. That's life, I guess, in the NBA.