Why Player-on-player Recruiting at NBA All-Star Weekend Isn't Tampering

The NCAA opens very specific windows for legal recruiting, with coaches allowed to talk to players at designated intervals, though it's widely understood those rules are broken as a matter of routine.

Recruiting in the NBA, however, is a 24/7 operation. It never sleeps. And the vast majority of the legwork is done not by coaches but by players.

Players recruit from the driver's seat of their luxury cars, from the soft sofas in the VIP sections of their favorite lounge, from warm beaches in the offseason and, over the next few days, during the many, um, "social events" on the schedule.

NBA All-Star Weekend is a recruiting bazaar, and this time around, the location is greater Charlotte, where the league's power brokers and dealmakers will discuss business with far more impact than anything that happens on the court.

The dialogue might have started last week, when captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo selected their respective teams.

Four of LeBron's picks will be on the free-agent market this summer, and a fifth, Anthony Davis, clearly is trying to navigate a trade that will land him in Los Angeles with James.

Team Giannis, by contrast, has just two scheduled free agents: Khris Middleton and Kemba Walker.

With four days to connect, let the pitches begin.

"Players, especially nowadays, are so close and they talk so much and, more and more, guys are playing together in the summer and working out together and for sure recruiting each other," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "But players are allowed to do that. Teams have to avoid that."

Recruiting, also known as tampering, is allowed among players because it can't be prevented. If Magic Johnson and the Lakers had waited a few days, they would have avoided an NBA investigation into their contact with Ben Simmons and the 76ers.

Tampering in the NBA is a relatively new phenomenon that is certain to be around for years to come. That box was cracked open in the summer of 1988, when LeBron James was 3 years old and Kevin Durant still was in the womb.

When the '88 U.S. Olympic team lost to the Soviet Union in South Korea and returned to the States with a bronze medal -- the worst finish in Team USA history -- something had to be done. Professionals from other parts of the world were competing against and, in this case, defeating a team featuring American collegians.

Four years later, international governing body FIBA altered the rules to allow, over Soviet objection, USA Basketball to include NBA players. The result was the Dream Team rampaging through the 1992 Olympics.

Suddenly, Magic and Larry Bird were teammates. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley got closer. Rivalries were softened. At that point, the box was wiiiide open.

Twenty years later, LeBron went to Miami to play alongside one of his best friends, Dwyane Wade. Not long after, Draymond Green reached out to Durant. Guys get to know each other as men, being introduced to families and friends.

"Guys are starting to understand they are more than just basketball players," said Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala, who owns two gold medals from international competition, most recently as a member of the 2012 Olympic team.

A line can be drawn from the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Green and DeMarcus Cousins went from teammates and dominoes partners, to the current Warriors. Two of the most volatile players in the NBA bonded in ways they would not have in 1988.

Players now realize there is more to them than basketball. Each man, particularly those considered elite, is his own megacorporation. Sure, they love competing and playing, but they also see basketball as the gateway to a more impactful and enjoyable life.

There is no more transparent recruitment than that between the Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. Davis' agent, Rich Paul, went public with a trade request. LeBron already had expressed his admiration of Davis. Oh, and Paul is longtime friends and business partners with ... LeBron.

This was an obvious tamper that resulted in Davis being fined $50,000 by the NBA for telling the world he wants to be traded. Is there any doubt that LeBron and AD have had discussions?

Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry was fined $25,000 for expressing his delight that Milwaukee was among the four destinations preferred by Davis. Lasry learned that such conversation is best left to the players, who are most effective at tampering.

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Players have their reasons for wanting out of one place and into another. Davis wanted to go to a place committed to contending. Any team with LeBron on it is going to contend.

"When the goals aren't aligned with the players and maybe others within the organization," Iguodala said, "you've got to take it upon yourself to put yourself in a position to do things that are important to you, whether it's winning championships or being in a market where you can solidify your brand with off-the-court opportunities."

Or, maybe, playing alongside former rivals who become friends capable of helping you achieve both goals with a smile.

Neither DeMarcus Cousins nor Draymond Green will participate in the official All-Star festivities this weekend in Charlotte. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be out of touch. As players, they are no more than a DM away.

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