The NBA has fined the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000 for violating the league’s anti-tampering rule by expressing interest in former Indiana Pacers star Paul George while he was under contract.
The NBA announced the fine on Thursday, after an independent investigation by the New York City-based law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
The conduct at issue involved communications by Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka with George’s agent that constituted "a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract," according to the league.
The penalty reflected a previous warning issued by the NBA to the Lakers regarding tampering, following an April 20 television appearance by Lakers President Magic Johnson, the league said. On “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Johnson indicated that the Lakers would be interested in recruiting George, albeit in a joking manner.
The investigation did not reveal evidence of an agreement or understanding that the Lakers would sign or acquire George.
"We respect and accept the NBA's decision regarding this matter," Pelinka said in a statement. "On behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers, I want to express our regret over this unfortunate incident to both our fans and the NBA."
Attorney Adam Streisand, who represents the Lakers, called the investigation thorough and said, "We can assure the fans that the Lakers will be hyper-vigilant going forward to make sure this is never an issue again."
The NBA's anti-tampering rule prohibits teams from interfering with other teams' contractual relationships with NBA players.
The Pacers had asked the league to open the probe into tampering. On Thursday, Pacers President Kevin Pritchard issued a brief statement: "We accept the league's findings."
George is a four-time All-Star and Los Angeles native who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason. The Pacers traded him after George told them he planned to leave Indiana as a free agent next summer.
There had been speculation for some time that George wanted to join the Lakers.
In the April television interview, talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel asked Johnson what constitutes tampering, and if he would be allowed to speak to George if they happened to cross paths.
"We're going to say hi because we know each other," Johnson said. "You just can't say, 'Hey, I want you come to the Lakers,' even though I'm going to be wink-winking. You know what that means, right?"
George will be a free agent in 2018. He's coming off a season in which he averaged a career-best 23.7 points per game, and is joining a Thunder team that already has reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.