After LeBron spoke up about Anthony Davis riding shotgun with him in Hollywood, Lakers fanatics were hit with a high they haven't felt since Kobe jumped over an Aston Martin. But as excited as purple and gold acolytes were, mid-market general managers were aghast. LeBron was allegedly circumventing an NBA system aimed at parity and executive hierarchy calling the shots. Enough of a stink was raised that NBA teams got a memo late this week about tampering, according ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
After scrutinizing the memo, Wojnarowski concludes in his ensuing story that NBA counsel alludes to—"...employment contracts are to be respected and conduct that interferes with contractual employment relationships is prohibited"—a scheme similar to LeBron's comments about Davis if he were under instructions from the Lakers. But there's no proven conspiracy with the management.
As the USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt points out, there's wording in the memo that appears to include even casual comments from players ("if there are aggravating factors"). One of those is "sustained public recruiting," which is deliberately vague. How long is sustained?
So, LeBron can comment about playing with Davis tomorrow if he wants, but if he keeps doing it, then the NBA might intervene. It's the murkiness of the whole thing that pisses off general managers and makes this issue more complicated than it needs to be. Here's more of the memo, via Woj:
"Teams should be aware that the scope of the anti-tampering rule is broad, and its application in any given case is based on all facts and circumstances. Accordingly, conduct that doesn't violate the rule in any single instance may nevertheless constitute a violation if it becomes repeated or part of a broader collection of improper actions."
"Teams should therefore refrain from any conduct—including public statements—that could be viewed as targeting or expressing interest in another team's player."
The key word there is "teams." Not players. However, as memo explicitly notes, if it's "sustained" recruitment, or "the player making such a comment is coordinating with his team—then there may be a basis for a tampering violation."
But players aren't teams, they're individuals protected by free speech. An employee can tell someone at a rival company that their employer offers better wages and more creative freedom. In fact, that word of mouth is how many decide on a new job, or when to switch jobs. The same thinking applies to NBA players, who are employees like most of us.