Lakers, and all NBA teams, must be punished harshly
For most of my years growing up, my mom’s default disciplinary action was to send me to my room. If I did something really nasty she would defer to my dad for the punishment. I erased those moments from the highlight reel of my childhood. But for the misdemeanors, my mom would just tell me to go to my room. It took her until about sixth grade to figure out that my room was a pretty cool place to be banished to. I had books, baseball cards, and a baseball and football game with dice. I could just sit there for hours and pretend I was Gale Sayers or Lou Brock. I’d rather be outside playing, but when I contemplated criminal acts like swiping a cookie before dinner, I’d weigh the punishment and figure, why not?
This is probably how the Lakers feel after being convicted of tampering with Paul George. They took a cookie before dinner and went to their room to play games as punishment. It seems highly likely that George will sign a contract with the Lakers next offseason. Today, though, the Lakers found that signing George will cost not $100,000,000, but $100,500,000. If you’re wondering whether this scandal will rock the franchise to its core, the answer is probably not. Half a million is about the cost of one courtside season ticket at Staples Center. They should be fine.
The Lakers will suck this year, and trading for George when the Pacers made him available wouldn’t have changed that fact. But they would have traded for him, and possibly offered more than the Pacers ultimately got from Oklahoma City, if they thought it would put them in a better position to sign George when he becomes a free agent next summer. After all, if he was already on their roster they could offer him a better deal than anyone else could. And that is often the deciding factor in free agency — the best deal offered.
We don’t know what was said between the Lakers’ front office and George’s representatives. However, we do know that the Lakers decided not to pursue a trade for George. That would lead one to believe that either they know that George wouldn’t stay with them longer than one season, or that George was leaning heavily toward signing with them next summer regardless of where he was traded this summer. Since George is from Los Angeles, logic points toward the latter theory.
This meeting has real consequences. If the Lakers felt compelled to trade for George, it might have cost them Brandon Ingram, who is a better long-term prospect than anyone the Pacers got from OKC. That’s why the Pacers filed tampering charges; they were pissed off. More crucially from Indiana’s point of view, another team in the bidding would have allowed them to play offers against each other, which is how the price gets driven up to crazy levels.
Making that trade might also have depleted the Lakers’ assets. Can Los Angeles make the deal with Brooklyn that netted them Brook Lopez and also relieved them of Timofey Mozgov’s albatross contract? That Brooklyn trades makes it much easier to clear cap space to sign both George and one other star next summer. So by waiting to acquire George until free agency, they jump started their rebuild by about three steps. It’s hard to think of another move where a team improved that much for only $500,000.
Tampering happens in the NBA. Everyone knows everyone else’s cell phone number. Hell, there’s no way to know how many text messages and Snapchat messages are exchanged. Everybody eats at the same restaurants and goes to the same clubs. Guys work out together and gauge each other’s interest in joining forces, and report back to their front offices. Paul George’s agent can set up a legitimate meeting with the Lakers to discuss another client who is a free agent or already on the Lakers, and in the middle of that meeting can say, “By the way…” Who would know?
There’s no way to control it, which is why the Lakers weren’t punished more severely. If they had lost a draft pick or been barred from signing George, teams would begin going to great lengths to nail each other for tampering. The league office would be spending as much time dealing with tampering as it does with flagrant fouls. Still, it feels like the Lakers should get a punishment that hurts a little, just for being stupid enough to get caught. Perhaps the league should require the Lakers to hire Lavar Ball as an assistant coach.