Report: NBA begins tampering investigation into Knicks signing of Jalen Brunson

Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) and Spencer Dinwiddie, right, celebrate a 3-point basket made by Brunson in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Dallas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The NBA has reportedly begun an investigation into the New York Knicks for possible tampering in their acquisition of Jalen Brunson this off-season, with a focus on if the team made contact with him prior to the start of free agency, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The investigation comes after reports surfaced that Brunson, one of the summer’s most sought-after free agents, already had a deal in place with the Knicks before contracts could be negotiated on June 30. At that time, it was widely reported that Brunson had scheduled to meet with several teams — including the Knicks and Dallas Mavericks, his former club — though he ultimately only had a meeting with New York.

The connections the Knicks forged with Brunson and those in his orbit prior to free agency beginning have been scrutinized since the deal was signed.

New York hired Brunson’s father, Rick Brunson, as an assistant coach in June. The elder Brunson had ties to Knicks leadership even before joining the team’s coaching staff, too, having been the first client of Knicks president and general manager Leon Rose when he played for the Knicks from 1998-2000. Rose also negotiated Jalen Brunson’s rookie contract with the Mavericks.

The Knicks invested meaningful capital into creating space to sign Brunson this summer well before free agency began, sending Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks to the Detroit Pistons in a trade that opened up $19 million in salary. The Knicks also sent 2023 and 2024 second-round draft picks and $6 million in cash to the Pistons.

The Knicks and Brunson eventually agreed to a four-year, $104-million deal.

The NBA’s investigation marks the second probe into tampering allegations that it has launched in recent days, coming on the heels of the league beginning to look into the Philadelphia 76ers’ off-season moves.

Instead of being centred on when players were contacted, that investigation centres on the 76ers’ deal with James Harden — and the subsequent deals for P.J. Tucker and Danuel House that the superstar taking a pay cut enabled. ESPN reported on Friday there were questions involved a “handshake agreement in place on a future contract” between the former MVP and the team.

Punishments for tampering cases are rare in the NBA.

Recently, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were docked second-round picks after NBA investigations into their free-agent negotiations with Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, respectively.

Before that, in December of 2020, the league found “early discussions” between the Milwaukee Bucks’ and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was a restricted free agent with the Sacramento Kings at the time, occurred.

When deciding on a punishment, the league said it took into account the Bucks’ cooperation with the investigation, the absence of any concrete early agreement to a contract, and the team ultimately not signing Bogdanovic.

Milwaukee, in the end, had its 2022 second-round pick rescinded over the incident.

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