From Kobe to LeBron: Tragedy and Triumph in the N.B.A.

Stein: I know Bucks fans are upset, but I don’t think the league’s decision to strip their team of a second-round pick in 2022 in the wake of Milwaukee’s failed attempt to court Bogdan Bogdanovic is such a mystery. For all the league’s shortcomings in policing and curbing tampering, it has been consistent in dishing out penalties when violations were blatant. The violations, in this case, were pretty blatant.

These were not mere rumblings or assumptions about the sort of free-agent conversations that many of us suspect are happening leaguewide before they are supposed to. The league opened an investigation in response to a detailed news report about a five-player deal involving the Bucks and Sacramento Kings that had Bogdanovic, a restricted free agent, landing in Milwaukee — nearly four days before free agency was scheduled to start.

The league took action again on Monday when it fined Daryl Morey, Philadelphia’s new president of basketball operations, $50,000 for a seemingly harmless tweet congratulating James Harden on a statistical milestone he hit when Morey was still his general manager in Houston. It doesn’t matter if the social media post was automated or accidental, as ESPN reported Morey told the league office. The mere fact that Morey publicly “discussed” another team’s player put him in line for a fine.

Bucks fans have asked me: What about all the teams that have tried to recruit Giannis Antetokounmpo behind the scenes? My retort: Do we have proof? If there was a detailed news report in circulation about a specific team doing so — or if text messages Antetokounmpo has reportedly received from players on other teams were turned in to the league — I’m quite sure penalties would be imposed on the offending clubs. But no such evidence has surfaced in the public domain. It’s not that the Bucks are the only ones breaking the rules. Other teams have just been better at hiding it.

Whether or not Milwaukee or Sacramento wanted this stuff to be out there, it got out. Both were operating as if they had a deal even though Bogdanovic insisted he never agreed to anything. The league wasn’t going to let that go.

Even though the league announced in September 2019 that it would institute a new set of anti-tampering regulations to crack down on the practice, there is clearly still much to fix, given how many deals we still saw coalesce in the early hours of free agency on Nov. 20. But the league’s stance on this one, in the words of its general counsel Rick Buchanan, is that Milwaukee had to be sanctioned for “gun-jumping” the start of free agency.

There is plenty of skepticism regarding Commissioner Adam Silver’s claim that the punishment “will act as a clear deterrent” to other teams, since the whole episode technically only cost Milwaukee a future second-round pick. Yet it’s also true that the league’s decision to investigate essentially snuffed out any chance the Bucks had of resurrecting a deal for Bogdanovic — someone, by all accounts, Antetokounmpo badly wanted to play with.

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