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The Lakers might have tampered with Paul George. Who cares?

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NBA tampering rules are pointless, and there’s no need for the league to pursue this further.

Los Angeles Lakers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NBA confirmed reports over the weekend that the L.A. Lakers are under investigation for tampering with Paul George. The alleged infractions happened before George had been traded by the Indiana Pacers.

In fact, the alleged infractions directly precipitated Indiana’s trade sending George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pacers allege that the Lakers had backchannel communication with George, who then told the Pacers he would not be signing a contract extension this summer or re-signing with the team in 2018. Instead, he would seek to sign with his hometown Lakers.

No one is quite sure what the Lakers allegedly said to George behind the curtain, if anything. That is what the NBA seeks to learn in its investigation. Depending on what that is, penalties could be harsh. The nuclear option for the league: It could prevent L.A. from signing or trading for George altogether.

This is all so very ridiculous

Did George need to be told the Lakers lusted for his services? L.A. has chased pretty much every big name free agent for a half-decade! Of course the Lakers will be interested in 2018, assuming they have cap space.

What exactly could L.A. have told George that would change any sort of contract calculus? George didn’t make the All-NBA team, which means he was not eligible to sign a Durant Rule supermax contract extension at 35 percent of the salary cap like James Harden did. There was no real financial benefit to signing an extension with Indiana this summer without that.

Did George need some other team to tell him he should opt out in 2018 and consider his options while setting himself up for a major pay raise? If he did, he needs new representation. That George would reject an extension this summer and opt out next July is exactly what every other star would do, even if they planned on staying put in free agency. (The calculus for, say, Russell Westbrook is different because he is eligible for the Durant Rule extension ... but only if he remains in Oklahoma City.)

The Lakers couldn’t promise George anything different from what other teams with cap space can. With hard individual maximum salaries in the NBA, L.A. couldn’t promise to squirrel away extra money for him if he committed under the table early. It’s difficult to imagine, literally, anything the Lakers could say now to influence his decision-making given his obvious interest in playing in Los Angeles.

Further, the Pacers traded George! (They did so after beginning the tampering complaint with the league, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne). Indiana is out of the Paul George business, having shipped him off quickly after his future plans became public. Why should the Pacers receive recompense if a player who was already rumored to be tilting toward the exit confirmed as much a year before becoming a free agent?

If anything, George’s early decision helped the Pacers by assuring they received something in a trade. Don’t we think the Jazz would have liked to hear Gordon Hayward say he was definitely leaving for the Celtics a year ago instead of on July 4?

Clayton Kershaw's 5th Annual Ping Pong 4 Purpose Celebrity Tournament Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Kershaw's Challenge

Tampering is so fuzzy and subjective. Players, coaches, and general managers talk to each other all the time. Agents have increasingly transitioned into front office roles; retired players are moving into that direction, too.

Meanwhile, the financial rules governing cap space and contracts are complex and rigid. It’s quite hard to differentiate between two teams that have cap space. Without the Durant Rule contract, home teams have limited advantage in retaining stars. (Again, look at Hayward.) Plus, everyone under the sun knows who has cap space and who doesn’t.

If the Lakers tampered, they simply put darker lines between the already connected dots. If the league finds that an L.A. official told Paul George that the Lakers want to sign him and another max free agent in 2018, and George then informed Indiana of his plans to leave, who cares? If not in 2017, the Lakers would have told George their plans on July 1, 2018. If George wants to leave now, he’ll want to leave then. One struggles to see how Indiana was actually harmed further in any of this.

That’s the problem with current NBA tampering rules: Tampering doesn’t actually matter. It provides no advantage for the tamperer or harm to the tampered team.

It’s an excuse to explain away a loss. Indiana once built an exciting, competitive team around George. That run ended years ago, and the Pacers have struggled to rekindle anything special. That’s not the Lakers’ fault.

So punishing them for George’s exit strategy — even if those Lakers discussed it with him — is pointless. Because Indiana already traded George, a positive tampering verdict changes nothing. It is simply vengeance.

How absurd it would be if a ruling from the league prevented the Lakers from signing George in 2018. None of the three parties would be happy. The Pacers wouldn’t have George, the Lakers would have seen their plan go up in smoke, and George wouldn’t be able to sign with his hometown team. Some other team — maybe the Thunder — would win his services.

How is that just? What are we trying to do here?