NBA Investigation Into Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball Trades Likely to Amount to Nothing

Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler
Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler / Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The NBA's tampering rules when it comes to free agency are a bit of a joke. Everyone understands why there are rules in place to prevent teams from speaking to players who are under contract with other teams. But when everyone knows a certain player will be a free agent and cannot technically make contact with their agent because of the NBA's subjective moratorium, it gets a bit ridiculous. Competitive integrity and all that, but still.

The fact that every team in the league more or less ignores these rules has been an open "secret (if you could even call it that) for years now. Insiders will announce who plans to sign with what team literally seconds after the official start of free agency. This obviously is not because the players decided who to sign with in the matter of a tenth of a second, but because everyone ignores the tampering rules and speaks to potential suitors before the start of free agency. And if everyone is doing it, then nobody is at a competitive disadvantage!

The NBA does not agree. Last year they docked the Milwaukee Bucks a second-round pick in 2022 for tampering with Sacramento Kings free agent Bogdan Bogdanovich, which ultimately caused the trade set in place to fall apart. Now, the NBA is looking into the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, as well as the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls, under investigation to see if they violated tampering rules in trading Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, respectively.

So... they pretty obviously did tamper. Ball was the first deal announced by Shams Charania at nearly 6 p.m. ET on the dot last Monday, when free agency officially opened. Somewhat doubtful the Bulls and Pelicans were able to negotiate a deal for Ball's services (much less that Ball's agent was able to come to a quick agreement with Chicago) in less than one minute. Lowry's situation is similar. He was one of the earliest deals announced on Monday and there had been a lot of rumors surrounding the Heat's interest in the week leading up to free agency.

The question is why the NBA cares about this. They'll say they're worried about the integrity of free agency, that Ball and Lowry should have gone through the proper processes and waited until the start of the period in order to give other teams a fair shot at calling them with a sales pitch. But Lowry and Ball obviously wanted to go to Miami and Chicago (respectively) otherwise they would have tampered with other teams to end up there. The only thing that would change if everyone listened to the tampering rules was that Lowry would be a member of the Heat and Ball would be a Bull a few hours later than they were in this reality, if that.

What's significant here, though, is that by announcing an investigation the NBA is unlikely to give the teams a slap on the wrist. They could have done that behind closed doors. Instead, they announce to everyone what they're doing.

Nevertheless, this will probably be a big show of an investigation, a warning to teams in the future to not be so blatant when it comes to sign-and-trades. It will likely result in a substantial monetary fine for everyone involved, maybe a docking of draft picks at worst. Lowry will still be in Miami next season; same with Ball in Chicago. But it's not a great look for the NBA to be picky and choosy about what they care about and what they don't in regards to