$50,000? NBA…What Exactly are you Doing?

On Monday, superstar forward Anthony Davis informed the New Orleans Pelicans that he had no intentions of re-signing with the team at the end of his contract, and publicly requested a trade from the only franchise that he has played for in his entire seven-year career. There had been rumblings about Davis being frustrated with the play of the Pelicans thus far this season, but he had remained, for the most part, in solidarity with the organization as a whole. Therefore, when Davis finally changed his tune and decided to allow his representation to publicly announce his desire to be traded earlier this week, the NBA world was sent racing to piece together their best trade packages in order to entice the Pelicans to agree to a deal for Davis.

The hype around a trade for a player of Anthony Davis’s caliber is definitely understandable. Last season, Davis averaged 28.1 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game, while also adding in 2.6 blocks per game. This season, the forward out of the University of Kentucky has followed those numbers up with an equally impressive first half of the season, posting 29.3 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game, along with 4.4 assists per game. These are astounding numbers, and, if continued, would almost assuredly lead Davis to First-Team All-NBA honors this season.

Based on this, Anthony Davis trade rumors would likely have been swirling right up until the time that he became a free agent, regardless of whether he said a word about his feelings towards the New Orleans Pelicans and his future with the organization. However, the fact that he decided to do so, in a public manner, is what has now been made the focal point of the whole trade situation. In an official team press release on Monday, the Pelicans addressed the trade rumors, and the fact that they would not hastily move Davis, choosing instead to work on their own schedule. However, it was the team’s statement at the end of the release that sparked interest around the league: “We have also requested the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.

In the NBA, the rampant movement of players has led to increased tampering rates over the last few seasons. Tampering, in general terms, is essentially a preventative measure to ban players, coaches, or front office executives from trying to induce a player to play for his team, while that player is under contract with another team. However, this tampering is normally based on inappropriate comments by teams and team officials, not players. Such an example of this would be the comments made by Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, in regard to Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo last February. Johnson made remarks about the athleticism and unique abilities of Giannis, and what he believed the future held for the young superstar. After these public comments got out, the league fined the Lakers $50,000. For context, this situation must be compared with another instance in which the Lakers were punished for tampering. In 2017, the Lakers were fined $500,000 after the Indiana Pacers asked the league to look into possible inappropriate communications between Lakers’ executives and their player Paul George. After an investigation, the league discovered that Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager had engaged in discussions with George’s agent, expressing the team’s desire to acquire George while he was still under contract. Clearly, the $500,000 fine was much steeper than the $50,000 fine in the more recent incident, and that can be attributed to the fact that the league is much more concerned with private attempts to gain an upper-hand than it is with comments made for the whole world to see.

And that brings us back to the Anthony Davis saga at hand. After the Pelicans requested that the league strongly enforce the tampering rules, the NBA decided to fine Davis $50,000 based on the fact that the collective bargaining agreement prohibits players or their agents from publicly requesting trades. Now, objectively speaking, this fine seems silly for a few reasons. For one, for a superstar of Davis’s caliber, $50,000 seems like a very small amount if the league really wants to try and deter this behavior. Davis is making almost $26 million this season, so a punishment of $50,000 will most likely not stop a player from making these public statements if they believe that it will benefit their career in the long run. Further, if the league is really that much more concerned with private tampering than public tampering, then why punish public tampering at all?

It is clearly intuitive why the league would want to levy hefty fines and punishments to disparage private tampering, such as in the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul George example. The NBA would risk going down a very slippery slope if it allowed big market organizations like the Lakers to speak to superstars in small markets behind the scenes, while those players are still under contract. Most individuals around the NBA would agree that this would be unfair, and lead to a flurry of shady dealing that the league does not want to have to deal with. But when it comes to public requests for trades, what exactly is the NBA’s goal? Once the player or his representation makes the public statement, the metaphorical “cat is out of the bag,” and the rest of the league has then been put on notice of a player’s desires. No matter how much it upsets or harms a team like the Pelicans, other franchises receive the player’s message loud and clear. A small fine of $50,000 does not all-of-a-sudden make the player’s wishes a secret again, and in no way does it help the organization that the player no longer wishes to play for. Slapping a fine of $50,000 on the player after the deed has been done makes the fine seem more like a miniscule price tag that the player must pay in order to let the rest of the NBA know that he is now available in a bidding war.

At this point, it seems as though the NBA is at a bit of a crossroads. In order to avoid further confusion and general humor from fans and others, the league has one of two options. It could abolish the fine for public tampering all together, allowing players to make their preferences known, as long as it is done in public and on an equal playing ground for all of the teams in the league. Or, it could drastically increase the fine for public tampering, making it at least comparable to that of private tampering. These millionaire athletes are not batting an eye at a $50,000 fine, but at least $500,000 would make them think twice about engaging in public tampering if the issue should present itself again in the future.

-William Hython

Photo Credit: Marc Berman: Getty Images; Paul Flannery: SBNation

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