The NBA is investigating claims that Los Angeles Clippers executive Jerry West offered to pay Johnny Wilkes, a friend of Kawhi Leonard, $2.5 million to help deliver the two-time Finals MVP to the team in 2019 free agency, according to The New York Times' Marc Stein. On Monday, TMZ reported that Wilkes is suing West over an alleged failure to make that promise $2.5 million payment in exchange for his help in securing Kawhi.
The Clippers have since forcefully denied the claims against West. "The lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless," the team wrote in a statement. "The Clippers are fully cooperating with the NBA in its investigation, which is standard when these types of allegations are made." They went on to add that they are providing the NBA with evidence that the allegations are false.
This is not the first time the Clippers have been investigated due to events and allegations surrounding Leonard's free agency. During the 2019-20 season, The Athletic's Sam Amick reported that Leonard's uncle, Dennis Robertson, had been investigated for asking for improper benefits from teams seeking to sign the superstar forward. No wrongdoing was found, but reports stated that the league would resume the investigation if that changed.
There is no precedent for the league finding evidence of such an illegal recruiting tactic. The closest example would likely be Joe Smith's illegal contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1998. The league found that Smith had taken a below-market-value contract to join a Timberwolves team that otherwise would not have had the cap space to sign him knowing that he could sign a more lucrative deal later using Bird Rights. The NBA stripped the Timberwolves of four first-round picks as a result, and effectively suspended both owner Glen Taylor and general manager Kevin McHale.
This would represent a different sort of violation, but one no less severe if proven true. For the time being, though, there is no evidence pointing to malfeasance on the part of the Clippers.