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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Close Encounters of The Stern Kind: Danny Ainge Fined
The NBA has fined the Boston Celtics $30,000 for general manager Danny Ainge unintentionally sitting next to the mother, step-father, and grandmother of University of Texas freshman Kevin Durant, who will likely be the second player selected in the 2007 NBA Draft, during the Big 12 tournament a couple of weeks ago. They were all seated five rows behind the Texas bench. NBA rules prohibit team executives from contact with college players until they officially declare for the draft.
But 1) was that rule actually violated; and 2) even if Ainge violated the rule, does it make much sense?
Let's take the first question first. It should be noted that Ainge sat next to Durant's mom and not him. The rule expressly prohibits contact with the college players, although the NBA is interpreting it to also include family members and "advisers." Notwithstanding what I think about the rule, I believe the NBA is making the correct interpretation: it would seem to be in the spirit of the rule for it to extend to immediate family members of the player, otherwise there would be a rather jarring loophole.
It should also be noted that Ainge's contact with Durant's family was unintentional; their seats for the game happened to bring them to the same place, five rows behind the Texas bench. Having said that, the NBA's rule appears to be based on strict liability; intent, or even a lesser element like recklessness or negligence, does not seem to be required.
But the second question is perhaps more intriguing: Why does this rule even exist? After-all, it's not like Ainge, or any NBA executive, could actually recruit Durant by speaking with him or his mom. That's because the NBA, like other major sports leagues, employs an amateur draft, meaning college players are not free agents. Moreover, even if the Celtics tried to lose enough games to secure the second worst record, which they presently "enjoy", they may not wind up with second overall pick--and as all of us Celtics fans know, sometimes a weighted lottery doesn't work out the way it should (i.e., Tim Duncan should really be a Celtic, but isn't. I still haven't gotten over that). In fact, securing the second-worst record only provides the Celtics with a 38.9% chance of landing one of the top two picks.
Now, I suppose NBA Commissioner David Stern could say that by sitting next to Mrs. Durant, Ainge might somehow try to persuade her that if the Celtics don't land the second pick, then she should convince her son to holdout from whichever team drafts him and then demand a trade to the Celtics. Or maybe Durant's grandmother is really the influential one, and Ainge could try to employ the same plan with her. Or maybe its the step-dad. Or maybe these are far-fetched ideas that sound in paranoia, rather than reality.
Another possible and perhaps more legitimate NBA concern: Danny Ainge might encourage Mrs. Durant to convince her son to declare for the NBA draft, rather than to stay at Texas. This concern seems more plausible, especially since the NBA seems intent on protecting the NCAA and its member schools, which obviously make a ton of money off the free labor of these players. Henry Abbot over at his new home for TrueHoop--ESPN.com (congrats Henry)--explains in his post "The Myth of Amateurism" why this rationale may not be the most meritorious, even if it is commonly mentioned.
One last contextual point: the fining of the Celtics for Danny Ainge's "inappropriate contact" is the latest in a string of recent NBA fines of NBA executives for comments or actions related to potential draft picks. Namely, the Charlotte Bobcats were fined $15,000 for comments made by co-owner/CEO Michael Jordan regarding Durant, and the Golden State Warriors were fined $15,000 for comments made by coach Don Nelson about Durant and presumptive number one overall pick, Greg Oden.