How the NBA’s New Anti-Tampering Rules Will Change the Sport

It was the summer of tampering in the NBA. Not like this was anything new, but this season saw lots of teams allegedly doing under-the-table deals that went against the NBA’s official rules. The league seems like it’s had enough, however, as the Board of Governors passed strict new rules to cut down on perceived tampering.

The NBA’s tampering tipping point

Tampering is nothing new. Although teams are not supposed to be in communication with a player about upcoming contracts, most big moves seem to come with some sort of agreement that a player will re-sign. Teams across the league got more brazen with tactics, however. From the Lakers’ pursuit of Anthony Davis to both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s situations with the Clippers, there seemed to be at least a few hints of tampering.

With every rollout of new rules, it seems like NA teams will go as far as they believe other teams are going. If one team begins to tamper, others do too, until the whole thing snowballs and nobody even tries to hide it anymore. One GM acknowledged as much to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “I’ll follow the rules,” the person told him. “Until I find out others aren’t, and I’m at a competitive disadvantage.”

What are the NBA’s new anti-tampering rules?

Depending on who you ask, offseason conversations happen anywhere from All-Star break in February to the Draft Combine in May. This is a problem, as the official beginning of free agency doesn’t occur until the end of June. This, on top of beliefs that teams were entertaining offers beyond the salary cap, was the NBA’s major focus.

Failure to follow the new rules, according to Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, will cost teams millions of dollars, trigger suspensions, and future draft picks. Unauthorized agreements, meaning the aforementioned benefits beyond the salary cap, will cost a team $6 million. Teams will also have to sign a statement saying they did not tamper or offer benefits in any way. 

The NBA doubled the maximum fine to $10 million. If a team asks too heinously, the loss of draft picks is left up to Silver and his people. Furthermore, teams will be subject to random audits, involving five teams being thoroughly investigated for wrongdoing. A final rule requires teams to save communications with agents for one year after speaking with them.

Will the new anti-tampering rules work?

The league’s new rules could work in theory. Although teams may be willing to take on fine if it means acquiring the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo or a similar star, the loss of draft picks and suspensions could prove scary for executives across the league.

The NBA is showing that they are taking this more seriously, and small market owners seem especially happy with the results. However, the NBA already had anti-tampering rules meant to cover past transgressions. Teams didn’t just magically oblige the new rules, they found new ways to circumvent them and toe the line. Some, like the Lakers’ strategy to acquire Anthony Davis, are standard. Others have serious consequences. 

The league can try to make stricter rules, but teams and agents will get more creative. Tampering will always be a part of the NBA until the league shows that it’s serious by taking draft picks, voiding deals, and giving out suspensions. Only time will tell.