In recent years, dropped NBA governors have raised a greater stench about their players mingling with representatives of other teams before the official start of the free agency period. In 2019, the NBA enacted stricter tampering rules, including an increase in the maximum fine for tampering to $10 million, suspension of officers, forfeiture of draft picks, and cancellation of contracts. The new rules also state that team managers must retain all communications with players and their representatives for one year.
Last summer, the Miami Heat received a second-round pick for negotiating with Kyle Lowry before the start of the free agency period, while the Chicago Bulls were penalized for jumping the gun on their sign and trade for Lonzo Ball. The Philadelphia Sixers are under investigation for something far more serious than trading early.
This week, the NBA announced that the NBA is investigating James Harden’s decision to turn down $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 and take a pay cut on a new two-year, $68 million contract. Harden’s two-year discount earned him a $14.5 million discount to what he would have earned under the contract he backed out of.
Salary cap evasion, which would essentially be an unlawful means of compensating players outside of the parameters of their contract in order to circumvent the salary cap or luxury tax, is a serious offense as far as the NBA is concerned. The gossip mill has hinted that Harden has signed a team-friendly two-year extension that allows him to relaunch for up to four years in 2023, implying it was part of a snap deal eye he would receive. a supermax in 2023.
Also, before Harden agreed to an extension, Morey signed Danuel House and PJ Tucker. These two signings gave an opening to the NBA. House and Tucker were former teammates of Harden in Houston, leading the NBA to include their acquisitions in their investigation. However, nothing concrete emerged to suggest irregularities. Harden earned a reputation as the Association’s most surreptitious mover and agitator.
In the era of player empowerment, superstars have decided to choreograph their next stop, but Harden is devious about his machinations. Where most guys in Harden’s position would sign a series of two-year contracts with a second-year player option, Harden maximized his earning potential and maintained his ability to sign a supermax. This “1+1” strategy leaves money on the table. Harden’s willingness to try his luck in 2022 and his alleged serial tampering is what caused the league to shine the spotlight on Philly.
Harden and the Sixers were already under surveillance for the events leading up to his trade from Brooklyn prior to the 2022 trade deadline. In January, Yahoo Sports Chris Haynes raised the possibility of the owners asking the league to probe Philadelphia for collusion if a signing and trade were announced. At the time, the chances of Brooklyn trading Harden before the summer seemed remote, but it was Harden’s relationship with Morey, who acquired him from Oklahoma City a decade ago, and minority owner Michael Rubin that had his eyes trained like a hawk on Philly’s front office. increased when the mid-season exchange decreased.
Circumstances have changed, but the Board of Governors got the investigation he referred to after all. If there has been any wrongdoing, the 76ers and Harden should be warned enough to avoid the mistakes that landed the Heat and Bulls tampering penalties by waiting a few days to confirm their plans rather than announcing complex deals a few seconds after the start of the free agency period.
Morey should have known the NBA would be reviewing his actions this summer. Unless the NBA has a warrant to tap the phones, it would be shocking if anything happened. Everyone knows that you do not discuss verboten actions via SMS. NBA players can afford burner cells and if the Secret Service can provide end-to-end national security, surely player agents and GMs can claw their way out of NBA jurisdiction. On the other hand, when did something related to the process disappear gently?