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Lakers fined $500,000 for tampering with Paul George, NBA announces

The Pacers asked the NBA to look into Los Angeles’ contact with George. They found something.

Indiana Pacers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The NBA fined the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000 on Thursday for violating the league’s anti-tampering rules. The fine appears to be a result of the investigation into Los Angeles’ contact with Paul George while he was under contract with the Indiana Pacers.

Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania was the first to report the news.

It is the second-largest tampering fine in league history, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick, ahead of Minnesota’s Joe Smith debacle in 2000 that cost them $3.5 million and three-picks. It is also a top-15 NBA fine of all-time.

The NBA issued the Lakers a warning after Magic Johnson’s April 20 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live where he joked about not tampering with George.

The Lakers could have faced much more severe penalties. Had the investigation unearthed more detailed interaction between Los Angeles — like a commitment from either side to agree to a contract with the other — the Lakers could have lost draft picks, absorbed fines of up to $5 million, had future restrictions on acquiring George and/or faced possible suspensions on offending officials.

How did we get here?

With his first unrestricted free agency looming next summer, Paul George had been linked to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers team all season long. Those rumblings grew louder when Magic Johnson, one of George’s childhood basketball idols, took the reins as Lakers’ president in March.

The Pacers then filed tampering charges against the Lakers in late August, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, hiring law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to look into team president Magic Johnson’s regular season contact with George.

But it turns out it was Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka whose communication with George’s agent cost Los Angeles a half-million dollars.

The conduct at issue involved communications by Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka with the agent representing Paul George that constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract. ... The investigation did not reveal evidence of an agreement or understanding that the Lakers would sign or acquire Mr. George.

George later informed the Pacers that he would not re-sign with them when he becomes a free agent in 2018, giving them an opportunity to trade him before he left for nothing on the market. Indiana eventually did so — sending him to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis — but not until the murmurs of a potential deal between the Pacers and Lakers surfaced.

No such deal ever occurred, but after the results of the tampering investigation, it appears Pelinka and George’s CAA representation made contact while he was under contract with the Pacers.

Why this matters

Magic Johnson had already rubbed some the wrong way during his national TV appearance when he joked about wink-winking Paul George if the two crossed paths. The NBA issued him a warning, then found Pelinka culpable of making official contact with George’s representation.

The NBA is a dog-eat-dog league, and star players already leave small markets to pursue lucrative and desirable opportunities in big cities. Under-the-table contact like this makes a difficult situation for small-market franchises even tougher.

Reaction

The Lakers get a wake-up call, though swiping draft picks would have hit Los Angeles where it hurts, and the Pacers get one small victory in the big L that was losing Paul George for pennies on the dollar.

It’s a mere slap on the wrist, though, for a franchise that needed no more advantages to re-sign a star player who both is from Los Angeles and said the Lakers were his preferred destination. Both Magic and Pelinka are first-time NBA executives; these waters are new for them.

But if this kind of tampering becomes a habit, the NBA should step in with much harsher penalties down the line.

Here’s what our friends at Silver Screen and Roll thought of the fine:

This isn't a great look for the Lakers, but it could have been much worse. A $500,000 fine is a small price to pay if the league did discover signs of tampering, and the Pacers got their wish by punishing the Lakers for overstepping their boundaries.