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League investigating potential tampering between Lakers, LeBron James, Anthony Davis — making deal before trade deadline unlikely

The New Orleans Pelicans are pulling out all the stops to avoid sending Anthony Davis to the Lakers, possibly setting a new precedent specifically for LeBron James in the process.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In a last-snitch effort to impede any potential progress on trade talks with the Los Angeles Lakers, the New Orleans Pelicans are looked to the league office for help, calling for the NBA to to “strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with” Anthony Davis having his agent, Rich Paul, publicly request a trade.

It wasn’t immediately clear what that meant right away, but according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the NBA league office is currently looking into potential tampering charges involving LeBron James, the Lakers and Anthony Davis. — the latter of whom the NBA just announced had been fined $50,000 for his agent publicly demanding a trade.

But things may go even deeper than that, as Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports got into during an appearance on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” (an appearance that took place before Davis’ fine was announced).

Haynes first addressed whether he thinks the Lakers might be able to deal for Davis before the NBA trade deadline:

“I don’t see that right now. I mean, if you look at (the Pelicans’) statement, they’re still on the league about looking into tampering charges and so there’s bad blood. I was talking with somebody earlier and they brought up Gregg Popovich, how he was not going to trade Kawhi to the Lakers, and I said ‘this is different. It’s a little bit deeper even than that.’

“So from that mindset right now I do not see a way (that in the next 10 days) the Pelicans do a deal that will send AD over to the Lakers. I just don’t see that happening. And I don’t know if the league is going to let that happen right now.”

Popovich’s disdain for the Lakers is well-documented. So, what makes this different? Why would the league step in? Haynes explained (emphasis mine):

“Obviously the league is investigating right now, those charges. Tampering charges. I know they reached out to Rich Paul yesterday to interview him.

“And it’s funny, Colin, because players have always for years talked about playing with other guys. It’s never been an issue before. But now, all of a sudden, it’s become an issue. Now players aren’t allowed to do that. Usually it’s just coaches and management. But now it’s an issue when it involves LeBron and potentially another superstar going over there... So for a lot of those reasons alone, Colin, I just don’t see that deal getting done right now.”

It’s worth revisiting New Orleans’ public statement following Monday’s events and especially their request that the league look into potential tampering, with a little more context from Marc Stein of the New York Times:

“We have also requested the league to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.”

The last sentence could be interpreted as a reference to Paul’s longtime relationship with his star client — LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers — since the Lakers have been considered the league’s most ardent suitor for Davis for months.

Davis also faces possible league discipline because the N.B.A. typically fines players when they, or their representatives, publicly request a trade.

“We commenced an investigation this morning upon reading the reports regarding Anthony Davis,” the N.B.A. spokesman Mike Bass said Monday. “That process is ongoing.”

Let’s get one thing clear before I’m accused of being a homer: This is nothing like the league previously vetoing the Chris Paul trade because, at the time of the deal, it owned the then Hornets. If the league stepped in this time, however, this would be exactly what Lakers fans believed David Stern was doing back at the time of “The Veto.”

The NBA pumping the breaks on a Davis trade would be setting a new precedent out of nowhere with no warning to the Players Union. The league said nothing when Draymond Green admitted on the record to calling Kevin Durant from the parking lot after losing in the NBA Finals. Mum was the word when just this season, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving was reportedly talking with Davis about what it would be like to play together. And those are only a couple examples of “tampering” that has gone on between players for, well, ever.

So what’s the difference? Lakers fans could play the “woe is us” card and (rightfully) claim a double-standard. But this is a result of James and Rich Paul reaching the next level of NBA power. With Paul as an agent, actual dominoes can be put into place to move continents if need be. Because Paul and James are also friends, this situation has to terrify owners, who’ve already held a tenuous relationship with agents over the years.

But an agent acting this boldly was always going to ruffle feathers, although I still just don’t know if the league wants to pull on this string. Holding up a trade involving not only the NBA’s marquee franchise but also (and more importantly) its greatest star in this political climate is not something the NBA can risk — not if they want to continue happily take credit for being at the forefront of player’s rights.

If the NBA is actually standing in the way of a trade because it now suddenly cares about tampering between players, it may as well outlaw trades and personnel movement altogether. Anytime a trade occurs, or a player makes a free agent decision, their motives are going to be questioned, and the role of another player from a different team might be brought up. This is why the league had previously turned a blind eye on communication between players. It’s impossible to actually monitor without going to ridiculous, Orwellian lengths to do so.

Now, it’s worth noting that this could merely be the league looking into something at the behest of the Pelicans, which it kind of its job. That said, if the NBA is actually holding up trade talks as a result of this investigation, then it’s overstepping its jurisdiction — barring some actual wrongdoing we don’t know about.

Precedent isn’t something you simply rethink on the fly. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Rich Paul, Klutch Sports and the Lakers would all have a very legitimate gripe if a trade is made more difficult by the league. If Adam Silver really wants to continue down this path, he’d better do so incredibly carefully, as irreparable damage to the league’s reputation could very easily be done if this incredibly hypocritical double-standard affects these talks in any way.

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