-- The NBA announced Thursday that the Los Angeles Lakers were fined $500,000 for tampering with Paul George when he was under contract with the Indiana Pacers, before they dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's not the first time in recent years that the league has handed down tampering penalties. Tampering cost Mark Cuban some money in 2015, Phil Jackson got fined for it in 2014, and both the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings got hit with tampering fines in 2013.
What do all those cases have in common? None of them involve the most common type of tampering: when players collude with other players. In fact, the league's statement on the Lakers' fine ended with the sentence "The NBA's anti-tampering rule prohibits teams from interfering with other teams' contractual relationships with NBA players, including by publicly expressing interest in a player who is currently under contract with another team or informing the agent of another team's player of interest by one's own team in that player." That specification clearly leaves a loophole for players to collaborate with other players, regardless of their contract status.
It's an open secret in the NBA that these talks -- in which players discuss possible futures with players under contract with other teams -- happen all the time, and some of today's top contenders wouldn't exist without it. While the league's collective bargaining agreement allows for punishment of a player for tampering in cases in which financial incentive is involved, for the most part the league has looked the other way on player-to-player tampering, even as the practice has become more common in the past decade.
So with that in mind, we take a look back at some of the most notable player-to-player recruiting efforts that might have technically been outside the letter of the law -- some of which worked remarkably well and others that failed spectacularly.
2010: The Heatles come together in South Beach
After LeBron James left Cleveland back in 2010, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had a hard time letting go. His hurt feelings weren't limited to the scathing letter he posted to the Cavaliers' website the night of "The Decision," either. Gilbert launched a private investigation into Pat Riley's coup to bring the All-Stars James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together in their primes. The law firm Gilbert hired to look into the claim of nefarious team building reportedly cost the owner hundreds of thousands of dollars and was ultimately fruitless.
As far as the NBA was concerned, even if James, Wade and Bosh readily admitted they discussed playing together as far back at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that didn't make Miami culpable as an organization for those three choosing the Heat when they all hit free agency in 2010. "What we told the owners was that the three players are totally, as our system has evolved, within their rights to talk to each other," then commissioner David Stern said. He added that players controlling their destinies by working together in such a manner "is not tampering or collusion that is prohibited."
-- Dave McMenamin
2014: LeBron finds Love in a hopeless place
Hours after LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, he made a phone call to Kevin Love -- then a solo star on the Minnesota Timberwolves -- to let him know how much he wanted to have the stretch forward on his team for the upcoming season. The only problem was, Love still had a year left on his contract in Minnesota. While it was one of the league's worst kept secrets that Love planned to pursue free agency in the summer of 2015 rather than automatically re-up with the Wolves, it was James' call that finalized his way out the door.
Once the Cavs knew Love was in, they quickly fashioned a trade offer to Minnesota centered around then No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and the two sides waited an excruciating month until the deal could be consummated because of the terms of Wiggins' rookie contract. That month left the trade twisting in the wind for all to see and try to pick apart, as James' role in the swap was often questioned as tampering because of his seemingly formal role as a conduit to dislodge Love from the Wolves. Commissioner Adam Silver, however, never levied any charges of the sort.
-- Dave McMenamin
2015: NBA's steamiest bromance ends in awkward breakup
Chandler Parsons plotted for months to recruit his buddy, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, to Dallas during the 2015 free agency period. Parsons, who persuaded owner Mark Cuban to make the plan the Mavericks' priority, frequently texted and FaceTimed with Jordan for weeks to plant seeds before ramping up the recruiting in mid-June, with the pair partying "Entourage" style leading up to the free-agency pitches.
It started in Jordan's hometown of Houston, with Parsons and his childhood best friend/manager Pausha Haghighi meeting Jordan and his brothers at the Hotel Zaza before hopping in a party bus and bouncing from club to club. They met again days later in Los Angeles, where they met up with Wesley Matthews, the free-agent 3-and-D wing Parsons and Jordan mutually agreed the Mavs should also target. The trio dined at the swanky steakhouse Boa on the Sunset Strip before heading across the street to Bootsy Bellows, sipping on drinks and discussing playing together while Cuban smiled from across the club after (ahem) coincidentally showing up with fellow "Shark Tank" cast members.
Parsons' pre-free-agency wooing culminated with a sushi feast he organized at Nobu Malibu the minute teams were officially allowed to speak to free agents, with Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki joining them. Cuban and Parsons secured Jordan's verbal commitment the morning of July 3. Days later, with Parsons in Las Vegas to celebrate his supermodel girlfriend's birthday, rumors started circulating about Jordan having second thoughts. Suddenly, Jordan stopped taking Parsons' calls and rarely returned texts after admitting that he planned to meet with the Clippers again.
Hours after news broke that Clippers players and management were meeting with Jordan at his Houston home, Parsons tweeted an airplane emoji, setting off a surreal, silly series of transportation emoji tweets. But Parsons knew there was nothing he could do at that point, boarding a flight to Los Angeles with a broken heart.
-- Tim MacMahon
2016: Epic collapse leads to an equally epic team-up
The Golden State Warriors' recruitment of Kevin Durant has become an open secret, especially following Draymond Green candidly talking about calling Durant from the parking lot of Oracle Arena following Game 7's heartbreaking loss to the Cavs in the 2016 NBA Finals. But Green's, and thereby the Warriors', efforts to land Durant started much earlier than that.
After playing the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday, with Super Bowl 50 in the Bay Area on Sunday, Durant decided to stay behind while most of his teammates traveled to Phoenix for a game against the Suns on Monday. In addition to checking out what the Bay Area had to offer, officially, Durant was a credentialed media member, pursuing a passion and hobby of his by taking photos of the big game for the Players' Tribune. Green and Stephen Curry were also there, and that's when seeds were first planted. Not coincidentally, it was a day before the Thunder traveled to Oakland that a report came out that Durant was considering the Warriors as a possible free-agency destination. The recruiting push was officially on.
That weekend is what most trace back to when the Thunder identified their clearest threat to sign away Durant. And it's what some believe Russell Westbrook was actually referencing when he showed up at Oracle wearing a photographer's vest before his first showdown against Durant last season, a way to say, "You know I know when they got to you."
-- Royce Young
2017: Lillard, McCollum want Melo to blaze a trail to Portland
Carmelo Anthony's frustration with his situation in New York is well-known -- as is the existence of his no-trade clause, which allows Anthony to dictate where he ends up should the Knicks decide to trade him. Both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have tried to recruit Anthony to Portland this summer, despite Anthony's indication that Houston is his preferred destination. The Blazers' backcourt duo has reached out to Anthony to discuss the virtues of joining them in Portland, with McCollum telling SiriusXM NBA Radio, "If we add Carmelo Anthony, we'll be a top-three team in the West immediately." McCollum even took to Instagram to spread the message.
So far, though, nothing of substance has developed between the Blazers and Knicks.
-- Ian Begley