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Lonzo Ball tampering still investigated by NBA, but why not the Lakers for their DeMar DeRozan pursuit?

tampering rules are dumb

Chicago Bulls v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

It has been over three months since the NBA opened a tampering investigation into the Bulls’ sign-and-trade acquisition of Lonzo Ball from the Pelicans (along with the Heat’s Kyle Lowry move). ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported over the weekend that the investigation is in its “advanced stages,” and the findings and any penalties should be announced “in the near future.”

God only knows why this has taken so long (the investigation into the Bucks last season took nowhere near this long), but here’s what Woj wrote about the investigation:

The NBA has conducted numerous interviews with team executives and player agents and has gathered electronic messaging of front-office executives of four teams — Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and Toronto — over the past three months, sources said.

The NBA came up with harsher penalties for tampering in 2019, including a max fine of $10 million (Jerry wouldn’t be pleased!), suspending team execs (not sure what this would look like), forfeiting draft picks and possible voiding of contracts. At this point, the Ball deal obviously isn’t going to get voided, but there have been rumblings out there about the possibility of losing a first-round pick. That wouldn’t be ideal given the Bulls are out so many picks already, and perhaps part of the calculus of the Lauri Markkanen trade was getting a first back in anticipation of this possibility.

Whatever happens, I find all this tampering stuff to be quite silly. Did the Bulls tamper with Lonzo Ball? Almost certainly, just like all teams tamper. It just so happens that this sign-and-trade deal was leaked by Rich Paul to Shams right at the start of free agency, making it apparently more brazen.

Getting penalized harshly for this would be even more annoying after reading stuff like this:

From Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, reporting yesterday that the Lakers’ pursuit of DeMar DeRozan started well before free agency:

DeMar DeRozan had multiple conversations with LeBron James in the offseason. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, worked feverishly behind the scenes with the San Antonio Spurs’ front office to get details ironed out on what would have been a sign-and-trade package to send the 13-year free agent veteran to his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

DeRozan, 32, believed everyone was on the same page, but the Lakers silently began exploring another route once Russell Westbrook was made available in Washington.

The talks between the Lakers and Spurs tapered off. Reading the tea leaves, Goodwin pivoted his client in the direction of the Chicago Bulls.

There was minimal debate internally among the Lakers’ brass on which player would be the right fit, but there weren’t enough key backers of DeRozan. Westbrook was acquired on the day of the 2021 NBA draft.

How is that DeRozan/Lakers situation not blatant tampering? Just having conversations with LeBron is technically fine since LeBron is an active player, but we know the influence he and Rich Paul have on the Lakers’ front office and what those convos were surely like. Plus, the bit about DeRozan’s agent “feverishly” working to get a deal done implies contact with both front offices. DeRozan even admitted he thought “going to the Lakers was a done deal.”

I don’t actually want the Lakers to get punished for this, because I don’t really think anybody should be punished for this stuff. But the Bulls getting dinged and the Lakers getting off would sure seem to be some crappy selective enforcement.

Maybe it’s just due to the fact that while the Bulls wound up getting Ball, the Lakers didn’t succeed in their ‘tampering’ with DeRozan. And that’s fortunate for the Bulls, as he’s happy to be a Bull and Bulls fans are happy to have him balling out this season.