The Cavaliers introduced Kevin Love as the newest member of a revamped squadron, culminating 30 days of nonstop coverage ranging from legitimate analysis to Minnesota also dealing an octopus named K-Love to Cleveland, so little was expected from Tuesday's press conference.
For the most part, that held true — since Love's stated "longterm" commitment to the Cavs was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski three weeks ago — except for one revelation that is sure to raise some eyebrows in the NBA commissioner's office: LeBron James called Kevin Love the day he signed in Cleveland.
"LeBron had signed to come back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and just a few hours post he called me and I said, 'You know what? I'm in.' That had a lot to do with my decision. I knew they had a lot of young pieces in place, a lot of great talent that has accumulated here as well, and I knew the city relatively well, but that had a lot to do with it."
Later, Love clarified: "I was the first call that he made after he signed, and I'm very happy about that."
Considering the league just fined the Raptors $25,000 for "global brand ambassador" Drake instigating a "KD" chant in front of Kevin Durant at Toronto's OVO Fest, Love's statement seems significant. According to Larry Coon of NBA Salary Cap FAQ fame, the NBA's tampering rule is as follows.
Tampering is when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody (player, general manager, etc.) who is under contract with another team in order to negotiate for their services. The NBA may impose suspensions and/or fines up to $50,000 if tampering is discovered, however the league's practice has been to wait until a team lodges a complaint before investigating (but that's not to say they don't continue to monitor the league and won't take action independently if they discover that tampering has occurred).
Now, Love didn't get into too much that was said on that phone call, but the inference after a roundabout discussion of their relationship as USA Basketball teammates is that James wanted him in Cleveland. Of course, Timberwolves president Flip Saunders still had to trade Love, making it unlikely he'd file a complaint, so the question becomes whether Adam Silver's office deems this worth an investigation.
Four years ago, when LeBron teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, then commissioner David Stern did not "consider it colluding," which is a ridiculous statement. It may not have been tampering, since all three were free agents, but it was definitely collusion. Regardless, the difference here is Love was under contract in Minnesota, and James called immediately after signing in Cleveland.
Generally, the commissioner's office fines coaches and teams for violating its anti-tampering stance, and as we learned from Woj over the weekend, the NBA granted Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert permission to meet with Love during the Las Vegas Summer League late last month — more than a week after Sports Illustrated published LeBron's "I'm Coming Home" announcement on July 11.
If the NBA starts fining players for talking to each other about the possibility of playing together, we'll be seeing quite a few salaries slashed. Considering the relationships players forge on the AAU, collegiate and international levels, the list of such scenarios is somewhere between long and endless, so it's probably best for the league to let Love's slip slide and rethink its wording on the tampering rule.
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