What’s at stake in NBA’s tampering probe on Knicks’ Jalen Brunson signing?

Alder Almo
Jalen Brunson, Knicks
Mar 9, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) reacts during the second half against the New York Knicks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are reportedly under investigation for an alleged tampering violation surrounding their prized free agent acquisition Jalen Brunson.

Yahoo Sports first reported the news.

Brunson signed a four-year, $104 million deal with the Knicks after calling off a supposed meeting with the Miami Heat and his former team, Dallas Mavericks. The scuttlebutt was there’s already a handshake deal between Brunson’s camp and the Knicks even before the free agency started on June 30 at 6 p.m. E.T.

Tampering occurs when a team or one of its representatives attempts to persuade a player, coach, trainer, general manager or any other person who is under contract with another team to join the tampering team, per the NBA league policy.

NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Brunson’s intention to sign with the Knicks at 5:02 p.m. on June 30, raising suspicion of a handshake deal.

Two hours later and an hour after the NBA Free agency started, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski contradicted Charania’s report and said that Brunson received a five-year $106 million offer from his former team, Dallas Mavericks.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed to two Knicks beat reporters at the NBA Summer League that they never had a chance to outbid the Knicks.

“It really wasn’t about the amount of money,” Cuban said. “We really didn’t get a chance to make an offer. It was Jalen’s choice. And I understand it. He knew those guys his entire life. He grew up there. It makes perfect sense.”

While Cuban said it’s not up to him to determine whether the Knicks violated tampering rules or not, the writings were on the wall.

It was an open secret that the Knicks had Brunson on top of their free agent lists this offseason. They set in motion their grand plan of acquiring the 25-year-old point guard after several Knicks top executives, along with their star forward Julius Randle, sat courtside during Game 1 of the first-round playoffs between the Mavericks and the Utah Jazz in Dallas.

Brunson’s father, Rick, was hired by the Knicks one month before free agency. While the elder Brunson had been eyed by the Knicks as early as 2020, when Tom Thibodeau came on board as head coach, the timing of the hire came with intrigue. Then the Knicks made several deals starting at Draft Night to open up the necessary cap room for Brunson.

Brunson’s ties with the Knicks run deep, which makes this tampering investigation an interesting process.

Leon Rose both represented Rick and Jalen Brunson. Rick was Rose’s first NBA client. Rose was Jalen’s first NBA agent and was the one who negotiated his rookie deal with the Mavericks that came without the customary team option in the final year that allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. Rose’s son, Sam, is currently Jalen’s NBA agent.

The NBA could compel the Knicks to turn over records and electronic devices as part of the investigation. But the family connections between Jalen and Rick and Leon and Sam make this Brunson case unique. In theory, it is possible that communications may have been done without a trace on electronic devices. Father and son can discuss things over family dinners.

The interviews with the personalities involved in the negotiations will likely determine if there is a strong case or not.

In 2019, the league raised the maximum team fine for tampering to $10 million to go with a $6 million penalty for improper deals and a $5 million fine for comments enticing other teams’ players. An offending team can also be stripped of draft picks, which was the case with the Milwaukee Bucks — in the aborted Bogdan Bognadovic deal — and Miami Heat — on Kyle Lowrie’s free agent signing — that cost them their second-round draft picks in the last draft. The Chicago Bulls were also stripped of their next second round pick (2026) for violation of anti-tampering rules in Lonzo Ball’s free agent signing.

Team executives who will be proven involved in tampering violations can also be suspended. The worst possible sanction is having contracts voided.

More than these potential sanctions, what’s at stake here is the Knicks’ future and Rose’s legacy as a team executive.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo