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NBA opens investigation into Knicks tampering in Jalen Brunson signing

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS, TX - MAY 24: Jalen Brunson #13 of the Dallas Mavericks warms up before the game against the Golden State Warriors during Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals on May 24, 2022 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

This was expected.

It was no secret, Jalen Brunson reportedly decided to sign with the New York Knicks for four years, $104 million well before free agency opened. Now the NBA is investigating the Knicks for tampering — illegally contacting and recruiting Brunson prior to the official signing period opening on June 30 — reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The NBA is also investigating the 76ers regarding James Harden opting out of his contract to sign for $14 million less next season, money GM Daryl Morey used to round out the Philly roster with players such as P.J. Tucker.

The Knicks and Brunson is a high-profile case with plenty of nuances to debate, although the core of the issue is this: Where does the NBA draw the line on tampering? There were 38 new contract signs and seven contract extensions agreed to on the first day of NBA free agency — approaching half of those in the first 90 minutes after the free agent window opened. Is the NBA suggesting none of those other teams contacted these free agents until free agency officially opened at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30? Tampering is rampant in the NBA, although done through back channels to give teams plausible deniability. As said before in this space, the NBA needs to seriously crack down on tampering or stop pretending it will.

With Brunson in particular, the Mavericks are reportedly frustrated. However, Dallas shares in the responsibility for losing Brunson. It chose not to offer a fair contract extension to the guard early — wanting to keep his trade value in place rather than lock him down — and by the time it put that offer on the table, it was clear the most they could offer was below Brunson’s market value. The Mavericks made their own bed.

However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence the Knicks tampered with Brunson, starting with the reports the sides had agreed to terms before free agency officially opened. Beyond that, the Knicks hired Brunson’s father, Rick Brunson, as an assistant coach (although he has been on Tom Thibodeau’s staff before). Then there’s the fact Knicks’ president Leon Rose is a longtime family friend of the Brunsons — Rick Brunson was former agent Rose’s first client — and right now Rose’s son, Sam Rose, is the younger Brunson’s agent. That’s not even getting into Knicks executives William “World Wide Wes” Wesley and Allan Houston, as well as forward Julius Randle, sitting courtside for a Mavericks-Jazz playoff game in Dallas (they may have been showing their interest in Utah’s Donovan Mitchell as well, as those two teams talk about a trade).

The Knicks front office might have had to answer questions about potential tampering if they had invited the media to Brunson’s introductory press conference, but they did not, keeping it a neutered, sterilized event where nobody would have to face anything unflattering.

A year ago, the league found the Bulls and Bucks had tampered in free agent deals and it cost them a late second-round pick (a spot in the draft where historically that player never plays in the league). Teams saw that as a slap on the wrist, not a serious penalty. Is the NBA going to be more serious with tampering fines around the 76ers and Knicks (assuming they can prove tampering), or is it more of the same?

Either way, the Knicks are officially under investigation.