One of the very first deals announced at the start of the NBA free agency period was the sign-and-trade of Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball to the Chicago Bulls for Tomas Satoransky, Garret Temple, a 2024 second-round pick and everyone’s favorite acquisition, cash considerations.
Though the deal is official, the NBA has opened a tampering investigation to see whether or not the Bulls violated league rules in reaching an agreement with Ball prior to the opening of the negotiating window.
It’s a pretty straightforward process. Teams simply aren’t permitted to have contact with players under contract with another team. A player isn’t a free agent until free agency begins, and that was on August 6.
The Ball deal was announced in the very first minute of the negotiating period on August 2.
A verbal agreement on a potential sign-and-trade is not uncommon, but the speed at which this deal was agreed to seems impossible to comprehend.
The Chicago Bulls were cap strapped, and didn’t have the money to sign Ball outright.
They hadn’t cleared the necessary space to absorb his four-year $85 million contract.
And yet, the deal was done.
The terms, the players, the compensation, were all in place mere seconds into the opening of the free agency period.
Even though both Chicago and New Orleans held conversations about a potential trade prior to last season’s deadline, players like Temple and Lauri Markkanen, who had also been rumored to be included in the deal, were scheduled to be free agents, making the agreements timing even more concerning to the league.
Now the NBA will be able to review everything associated with the trade. They can check phone records, text messages, and emails. They’ll be looking for any contact with player representatives.
The penalties are quite stiff, especially since the league increased the maximum fine for teams found guilty of tampering to $10 million. Team executives could also be suspended, draft picks could be lost, and yes, contracts could be voided.
Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks had to forfeit a 2022 second-round pick for tampering with Sacramento Kings restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic. The fact that Bogdanovic ultimately signed with the Hawks helped mitigate the damage done.
That may not be the case this time.
Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin is already under fire from fans for burning through two coaches in two seasons, and for some disappointing or downright infuriating personnel decisions that have left the franchise no better off than it was when he took the job.
Should the NBA decide to punish the Pelicans in this case, it could be extremely damaging to a franchise trying to convince Zion Williamson that New Orleans should be his home for years to come.