Doc Rivers doesn’t sound too concerned with the NBA’s tampering investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers.
He said the league’s allegations that the 76ers had early contact before they signed P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and re-signed James Harden were “not true” because Rivers and team president of basketball operations Daryl Morey had “no idea” Harden would opted out of his contract before free agency began.
“… First of all, we didn’t know what we were going to do with the money we were getting [when Harden opted out of his $47 million player option],” Rivers told ESPN’s The VC Show on Aug. 2. “And listen, James won, too, because James could’ve opted into a one-year deal. Instead, we gave him three years. And so both parties won in a lot of ways. Listen, it worked out for us, it worked out for James.
“I guarantee you Daryl Morey had no idea what James was going to do,” Rivers added. “I remember talking to him on the eve of when James could opt in or out, and he was like, ‘We’ve got five hours left.’ I mean, that was Daryl Morey, so that tells you he had no idea … I really believed that James was not going to opt in, that he was going to try to do a longer-term deal. But I didn’t know, I can tell you that. That’s for sure.”
The crux of the tampering allegations stems from Harden’s decision to enter free agency instead of taking the $47 million salary, which likely gave Philadephia the salary cap room to sign Tucker and House. While Rivers said Morey had no knowledge Harden would opt out of his deal, Harden reportedly told Morey “to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over” after the 2021-22 season ended, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. That conversation contradicts Rivers’ belief.
The timing of the Tucker and House deals is also suspect. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the tampering investigation on July 29, speculated that some believe the 76ers already had deals in place for both players before Harden officially opted out. And minutes after the legal tampering period opened at 6:01 p.m. ET on June 30, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported both Tucker and House had signed with Philadelphia. Rumors that Tucker would sign with the 76ers circulated even before June 30.
Rivers, meanwhile, just thinks his opponents are bitter about losing out on Tucker, House and Harden.
“You have 29 competitors against you,” Rivers said. “There’s no doubt that some teams — especially probably the [teams] that we took players from — they’re like, ‘This is not fair.’ That’s the the way it works. I get that; I’ve been on it. When I was with the Clippers, we ended up getting Kawhi [Leonard]. Yeah, the whole league was all over us about it. So it’s just the way it works, but this is a competition.”
Whatever the case may be, the investigation remains ongoing.
Possible punishments for the 76ers
If the NBA concludes that the 76ers did tamper, the punishment could vary – especially after the league announced stricter anti-tampering rules and subsequent fines in 2019.
Morey and 76ers have already been slapped on the wrist once before: The NBA fined him and the team $75,000 in 2021 for tweets about Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry. Morey more-or-less told Curry to “join” his brother, Seth Curry, in Philadelphia.
It’s unclear how the league would look at two-time offenders.
More recently, the NBA also took a future second-round pick from both the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls in 2021 for violating “early contract” rules around sign-and-trade deals for Kyle Lowry (to the Heat) and Lonzo Ball (to the Bulls.) The league also stripped the Milwaukee Bucks of a 2022 second-round pick in 2021 for breaking communication rules with restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanović in 2020.
It’s also not unprecedented for a team to be punished for tampering with its own player. The Milwaukee Bucks were fined $50,000 in 2019 for talking about re-signing Giannis Antetokounmpo before free agency.
The NBA has handed down substantial team fines, too. The Los Angeles Lakers were fined $500,000 for talking with then-free agent Paul George in 2017, while the Minnesota Timberwolves lost $3.5 million and five first-round picks after signing Joe Smith to a secret deal much larger than the one they reported to the NBA.
The Knicks are also being investigated for tampering
The 76ers aren’t the only team under the NBA’s microscope this offseason.
Reports of the Knicks’ interest in Brunson circulated before the season ended after members of the team’s front office attended a Dallas Mavericks playoff game against the Utah Jazz. The Knicks also hired Brunson’s father as an assistant coach in June.