Several general managers of small-market teams are angry with the NBA for not enforcing its tampering rules after Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said it would be "amazing" to pair with New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis.
"If these are the rules, enforce them," one Western Conference general manager told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. "If you want to push Anthony Davis in L.A., if you allow LeBron to interfere with teams, then just do it. Change the rules, and say 'It's the wild, wild west and anything goes.' But give us a list of the rules that you're enforcing, and give us a list of the rules that you're going to ignore."
"It's New Orleans' problem today, and a problem with a different player tomorrow for the rest of us," an Eastern Conference general manager added. "It's open season on small markets and our players."
Technically speaking, James wasn't tampering when he said it would be "amazing" to someday play with Davis. Tampering rules do no prohibit players from talking publicly about the possibility of playing with players on other teams in the future, nor do they prohibit players under contract with different teams from talking privately together about joining up, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
An NBA spokesman tells ESPN: “Each case is assessed on its own facts. In general, absent evidence of team coordination or other aggravating factors, it is not tampering when a player makes a comment about his interest in playing with another team’s player.” https://t.co/6hEIyW3qBi
The NBA will, however, charge "any player who, directly or indirectly, entices, induces, persuades or attempts to entice, induce or persuade any player, coach, trainer, general manager, or any other person who is under contract to any other member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services" with tampering.
As Wojnarowski noted, many small-market teams believe James' comments serve to create a media whirlwind around the possibility of the Pelicans trading Davis to the Lakers, putting pressure on New Orleans to pull the trigger. And the fact that Davis' agent is James' business partner, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, there is added belief that James' contingent is working behind the scenes to orchestrate a Davis-to-Los-Angeles move.
As one Eastern Conference general manager told Wojnarowski:
"Interference is as bad as tampering—maybe worse in this case. This becomes a campaign meant to destabilize another organization, install chaos and unrest that make it harder to keep an environment that the player would want to stay in. There's no use in complaining to the league about it. We all get that it's a players' league, but there are rules on the books that they need to follow too."
Davis can't become a free agent until after the 2019-20 season, but it's a pretty safe bet that if he turns down a supermax contract extension this offseason, the Pelicans will look to trade him rather than potentially lose him for nothing in free agency.
But for the Lakers, swinging a trade before this year's trade deadline would be ideal, since it would eliminate one of their biggest competitors in the Davis sweepstakes. The Boston Celtics have better trade chips than the Lakers, but they can't swing a deal for Davis this year unless they move Kyrie Irving, since both Davis and Irving have "Rose Rule" contracts.
Teams are not permitted to trade for more than one player on a "Rose Rule" contract, meaning they'd either have to trade Irving to get him off the roster or wait until he becomes a free agent this offseason.
So the Lakers have a small window to enter into negotiations with the Pelicans without the Celtics and their treasure trove of assets interfering. But it's probably a moot point, since the Pelicans will assuredly do everything in their power to entice Davis to stay and likely will wait until this offseason. They will offer him a max extension and only consider dealing him if he turns it down, which would allow the Celtics to also enter the bidding.
So small-market teams may not like James stirring the pot, but it's unlikely the Davis saga will have any sort of resolution until the summer at the earliest.