Stein: NBA GM Says 'Nothing Will Ever Change' with Current Tampering Penalties

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2022

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 25: Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks is guarded by De'Anthony Melton #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter of the game at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2022 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

NBA executives don't expect tampering to ever be a legitimate concern among teams given the relatively minor penalties for the infraction.

"If second-round picks are the only punishment, nothing will ever change," a general manager told NBA writer Marc Stein in the wake of the New York Knicks being docked a 2025 second-rounder by the league for holding free-agent talks with Jalen Brunson before they were permitted this summer.

It's unlikely that the Knicks will shed too many tears over losing a second-round pick in exchange for getting the jump on signing Brunson, who has been excellent for them (20.2 PPG, 6.6 APG) this season.

The NBA said the Knicks cooperated with its investigation into the team's pursuit of Brunson and the eventual four-year, $104 million contract the two sides agreed upon over the summer.

Per Zach Braziller of the New York Post, there were a "myriad of connections" between the Knicks and Brunson, including the fact that his "father, Rick, was hired to join Thibodeau's staff in June, he has known Thibodeau since he was a kid and his agent, Sam Rose, is the son of Knicks president Leon Rose. Leon Rose once represented Brunson before taking over the Knicks, and also repped his father when he was a player."

The NBA's investigation reportedly looked into the hiring of Brunson's father to Thibodeau's staff and also the team's signing of Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16 million deal, though the team was cleared of any potential wrongdoing in those inquiries.

The Knicks weren't alone. The NBA took away second-round picks from the Philadelphia 76ers in 2023 and 2024 after finding that they committed tampering infractions by holding early free-agent discussions with P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., who both signed with the team.

Last season, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls lost second-round picks for tampering violations.

While tampering rules prohibit teams from speaking to prospective free agents before a set date each offseason, complex free agent deals seem to quickly and mysteriously be reported on as finalized within minutes of free agency officially beginning each and every summer.

"There's not a team in this league that follows the tampering rules to a T," a front-office executive told Sarah Todd of the Deseret News in August. "But there are 30 teams in this league that find ways around the rules every day."

Even tougher punishments might not change the culture of tampering, however.

"The threat of harsher penalties and random audits doesn't even make teams flinch," a league office source told Todd. "And at this point, if we investigated every possible instance of tampering, the whole league would come to a screeching halt and nothing would ever get done."