On Monday, the Kings and Bucks appeared to agree to a sign-and-trade that would send Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin James to Milwaukee in exchange for Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova, and D.J. Wilson.
The NBA has opened an investigation of the reported transaction involving Milwaukee and Sacramento that was to send Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Bucks via sign-and-trade after Friday's scheduled start of free agency, @NYTSports has learned— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 20, 2020
The timing of the trade was strange, because though the NBA had opened the offseason trade window on Monday, free agency wasn’t set to begin until Friday, Nov. 22. That meant that it would be impossible for the Kings and/or Bucks to negotiate contract terms with Bogdanovic at the point in the process by the letter of the law.
It’s an open secret that teams meet with free agents and discuss contracts before the free agency technically opens, but no one actually announces the deal until the clock strikes midnight (or whatever time the NBA sets). The fact that both teams made the trade public — and thus the “free agent” signing of Bogdanovic — is what makes this situation different.
On Wednesday, however, the trade blew up, reportedly because Bogdanovic never agreed to the contract. It seems unlikely that neither Sacramento nor Milwaukee would have reached out to Bogdanovic prior to the trade, so the collapse of the deal felt like a way to save face by removing the illusion of tampering, and then completing the trade once free agency actually started.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN said he thought some shenanigans were afoot when he spoke about the situation on SportsCenter Wednesday night after the draft:
“Okay, so I’ve covered the NBA for 18 years, I’ve never quite seen a situation like this and I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Now, last year you may remember the NBA, before we had to worry about COVID in our lives, created a whole bunch of new crackdown rules on tampering. And this is the most obvious case of tampering in history because it’s three days before free agency even opens and we have the two sides announcing the sign and trade. Now, the problem is that, who’s filing the tampering charges because Sacramento is like look, we’re sending him away, he’s not going to play her anymore.
“But the outcry from executives was crazy over the last 48 hours. So, there’s a whole bunch of people in the league who believe that this could be a bit of a machination, that this could be something to prevent the league from voiding this deal, not allowing it to happen, to all of a sudden say, ‘hey there’s no deal’ and then by Sunday, then we have the deal. But Bogdan Bogdanovic’s representation has been adamant that this is not agreed to. Bogdan himself has told people, I’ll see what offers I get on Friday. Look he wants to play for the Bucks. Okay. He was in contact with Giannis Antetokounmpo this is what he wants. We’ll see what happens.”
But things got weird Thursday when Milwaukee elected not to guarantee the contract of Ilyasova, whose salary was crucial to making the deal work. It would appear that, in doing so, the Bucks no longer have interest in completing the sign-and-trade. And now that the league is investigating the entire operation, it’s even more unlikely that the two sides will come back to the table, even if Bogdanovic really does want to go to Milwaukee.
There aren’t really any winners in this process. Sacramento loses out on DiVincenzo, and rival teams know they can successfully sign Bogdanovic away in restricted free agency because the Kings were willing to let him go. That limits the team’s leverage in a different sign-and-trade.
Ilyasova is another casualty, because he lost out on his $7 million guaranteed contract, a figure he is unlikely to match in this free-agent market. Robin Lopez also loses out, because he opted out of his $5 million player option to avoid being a part of the trade altogether, and now there is no deal. Lopez is also unlikely to recoup that money on his next contract.
Both front offices also look bad for trying to execute this trade and failing, and the Bucks are now in a real pickle trying to upgrade their roster, especially after putting so much draft capital into the Jrue Holiday trade.
The NBA generally only likes to make examples of tampering when teams are egregious about breaking the rules. Even though this trade happened a few days before the legal date, the scattered nature of this offseason suggests that the league should have some leniency about the process.