LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers – whether it be LeBron James, general manager Rob Pelinka or Magic Johnson – have shown they are willing to either disregard or at least bend the heck out of NBA rules on tampering.
The league, naturally, has an interest in trying to make sure that situation doesn’t spiral out of control.
However, if the NBA decides to sanction Johnson for his most recent comments, it would be a major overstep.
Johnson was asked Sunday about Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, and responded by revealing that Simmons had reached out to ask about the possibility of the pair meeting up over the summer to seek guidance and insight into playing the position.
“He reached out to me, not to me directly, to the Lakers, to find out if we can get together this summer,” Johnson told reporters. “I said ‘Hey, you got to clear it with the league and everybody, the Sixers sign off, we sign off, the league signs off.’ There is nothing going on but he wants to know how to play the position as a big guard (etcetera), fine, I will do that, but if everybody doesn’t sign off we can’t get together.”
Given that Simmons is a hugely talented and oversized point guard, and Johnson is the best player ever to fit that description, such a meeting would make sense for an ambitious young player.
Problem is … Johnson is president of the Lakers, and the league is watching everything the Lakers do or say, very, very closely. Simmons is represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, and the league is hot on his tail, too.
This all comes directly following the as-yet-unresolved Anthony Davis saga. James sailed close to the wind when he said it would be “amazing” to play with Davis, then Paul got Davis pinged with a $50,000 fine for revealing publicly that his client wanted to be traded from New Orleans.
Pelinka landed the Lakers a $500,000 fine in 2017 for unauthorized contact with a representative of Paul George.
Without a doubt, the Lakers’ key staff members should not be allowed to do or say whatever they like. The 76ers were understandably unhappy, with general manager Elton Brand saying he had refused permission for a Simmons/Johnson meeting. Simmons can be forgiven for wanting to better himself, but this ruckus is predominantly of his making, by not going to his own team first to check if it would be OK.
The NBA should look into it, but any punishment here would be opening a can of worms. The Lakers released a statement late Monday that confirmed the Sixers made the request in an email in November, but Pelinka would allow it only if the Sixers ”gave written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter.”
Yes, Johnson didn’t have to bring it up, and if he hadn’t, the information might not have come out. But where should the line be drawn? Can he shake hands and say “Hello” to rival team players when they walk the Staples Center corridors after games?
Johnson said he would be willing to meet Simmons if it was allowed. It isn’t, so presumably he won’t. Unless and until that is flouted, that should be the end of the issue.
League rules forbid “expressing an interest” in another team’s player, wording so vague as to be a potential catch-all. If the league uses it to catch Johnson, in this case, it would be making a mistake.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.