Windhorst: LeBron James Recruiting Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler to Lakers

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TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 14: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball against LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 14, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)

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ESPN’s Brian Windhorst went on Pardon The Interruption Thursday and claimed Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is recruiting a few stars to play alongside him next season. 

“From what I understand he’s already begun the recruiting process…I have heard he’s had contact with Kawhi Leonard,” Windhorst said. “I have heard he’s had contact with Jimmy Butler…LeBron is tamper-in-chief right now.”

The tamper-in-chief remark refers to the NBA tampering rules. ESPN’s Bobby Marks summarized them in 2017 when he said that “no player, coach or management person may entice or induce a player under contract with another team to play for his team.”

Philadelphia 76ers wing Jimmy Butler and Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard are both under contract. Both can turn down 2019-20 player options to become free agents but have not yet done so with the league year still ongoing.

As Marks wrote, teams have incurred penalties for tampering in the past.

Of note, the Minnesota Timberwolves were found guilty of the practice in 1998 after they agreed to an under-the-table deal with Joe Smith. The two sides came to terms on three one-year deals from 1998-2000 before potentially obtaining his Bird rights and enabling the team to go over the league salary cap.

The NBA forced the Wolves to forfeit five first-round picks and pay a $3.5 million fine. Owner Glen Taylor and general manager Kevin McHale were also suspended.

As far as players go, Marks wrote they have been immune to tampering concerns: “Although there is language in the NBA constitution and the collective bargaining agreement, the league has looked the other way when it comes to a player recruiting another player in free agency or in trades. Unless a player violates the tampering rules by offering a financial incentive, the league will look the other way.”

The NBA does have the power to punish, though. Marks reposted an NBA rule which stated the following:

“The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any Player who, in his opinion, (i) shall have made or caused to be made any statement having, or that was designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member.”

This isn’t the first time the Lakers have been connected with tampering in recent history.

They were fined $500,000 for tampering with then-Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, who is now with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Then-Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson was fined $50,000 for comments regarding Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in Feb. 2018. The league also investigated potential tampering after Johnson said he was interested in providing tutelage to Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, but it did not punish the Lakers for the act.

As for James, the league sent an anti-tampering memo in Dec. 2018 soon after he made comments about how he’d like to play with New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis.

Regardless of what James has done to sway superstars potentially on the move, the drama never seems to end in L.A., even with the 2019-20 NBA season not starting for another five months.

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