The NBA is a players' league.
For nearly a decade, the league at large has been trying to curtail that notion. In the latest effort, the NBA has proposed new rules, including a fine of $10 million for teams caught tampering with potential free agents, according to a league memo obtained by ESPN.
The proposal comes two months after $1.4 billion in contract terms were agreed to 90 minutes into free agency, all but proving teams and players had agreements prior to the June 30 moratorium period. Such players included Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who were reported to have agreed to terms with the Brooklyn Nets hours before free agency period began.
Nine years ago, LeBron James sat in the Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn. and -- with the sports world in the palm of his hand -- announced his intention to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, marking the biggest shift to player empowerment since Curt Flood fought for MLB free agency in the 1970s. The move opened the door for players to determine their own futures on a level not seen, to the point that even the league's newest overtures won't help.
The NBA's latest attempt to stifle player movement is wide-ranging. According to the memo obtained by ESPN, the proposal includes prohibiting players from influencing other players to request trades and random audits on teams to "assess compliance." Additionally, a requirement would be put in place that requires teams to report any instance of a player or representative asking for extra benefits within 24 hours.
The NBA's newest proposal is in response largely to the recent open recruiting of free agents from former Lakers executive Magic Johnson. In 2017, Johnson alluded to his recruitment of upcoming free agent Paul George during an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Paul, then a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was considering the Lakers in free agency. Though rules forbid Magic to openly recruit George, he did so anyway.
“We going to say hi because we know each other, you just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,’" Johnson said. "Even though I’ll be wink-winking like, ‘You know what that means, right?’”
Johnson was fined a league-record $500,000 and George signed with the Thunder. Though the league's proposal is aimed at curtailing further actions like Johnson's, it does little to help with player-on-player recruitment. Thirteen years ago -- during the 2006 World Championships -- Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, each a member of a different team, openly pondered the idea of playing together. Each signed short-term deals with their teams to become free agents in 2010, subsequently signing with the Heat in free agency.
Will the new rules actually prohibit players from doing it again? Probably not.
No rules are going to stop a player's will under the current landscape. Take Kevin Durant's free agency this summer. Before signing, Durant hadn't met with any executive nor toured any of the Brooklyn Nets facilities, but said he wanted to sign regardless.
The biggest proposal would be for teams to self-report any agent asking for extra benefits. Not sure that could work, considering teams would run the risk of turning off top-flight talent by outing a player's inner circle.
The NBA is now a player's league, thanks to LeBron James, and even with the current set of rules in place, it doesn't seem like that power struggle will be changing anytime soon.